I have never considered myself the lucky type. I have never won anything in my life; no church carnival raffles, not a lottery scratcher, never been luckily selected for all-expenses-paid work vacation, the free t-shirts at the ballgames always seem to land on someone else’s hands, and the casino somehow manages to swallow my only $20 bill in two seconds. You get the idea. I’m not complaining at all. This made me a very resilient person who, from a very young age, realized that I would have to work twice as hard for anything. And so I did. I worked so hard to get to where I am right now. A Licensed Mental Health Therapist with a thriving private practice and the clinical director of one of the biggest mental health clinics in the state.
Recently, during one of my sessions, I was reminded and taken back to my high school years at NW Classen High School in Oklahoma City. A place where struggles were normal, and for someone like me, success was a distanced and unattainable goal. I was humbled throughout that session; it was a grounding reality check I didn’t know I needed.
I was able to beat the odds thanks to two amazing teachers. Ms. Damitra Fleck and Mr. Joe Quigley.
Mr. Quigley was an English teacher who treated me like he treated everyone else. He didn’t care I could barely speak any English; I felt seen and noted by him. He didn’t push me aside like everyone else. In a way, I could say I felt included and as if I belonged in his classroom. I learned so much more about English literature and life in his class than in any other class.
Ms. Fleck was the choir teacher. She was a gem of a teacher. I just didn’t know it then. She was kind, patient, Intelligent, compassionate, caring, and one of the most talented musicians I have ever met. I admit, at times, I was not the best student. I was rude, disrespectful, entitled, conceited, and unfocused. Somehow, she always managed to rail me and the rest of the oversized class back on track.
Every school year, Ms. Fleck took the choir to different singing competitions and performances throughout the entire state. These choir performances were often held at colleges. Thanks to Ms. Fleck and the choir performances, the idea of walking through the college halls as a student became very normal and familiar to me. Thanks to Ms. Fleck, I began to believe that it was possible for an immigrant student to actually attend college. In the fall semester of 2004, at the Oklahoma City Community College, thanks to Ms. Fleck, I was a college student. As cliché as it sounds, the rest is history. After all, it turns out I was lucky.
Dedicated to all teachers. Thanks for making a difference every day.
** I was lucky