Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The USA (01/08/09)
TITLE: Land of Opportunity
By Connie Dixon
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Kindness radiated through her initial greeting as she acknowledged each of us with a warm hand shake and a soft touch on the shoulder. “Good morning, I’m Mrs. Barrett. Please find your desk and put on your name tag.”
At the clang of the school bell, Mrs. Barrett moved to the front of the class and the room became still. Her quick smile exposed an inner beauty and a sweet disposition that rapidly became evident to all of us. She prompted us to stand and face the prominently placed flag. Then she purposely glanced in my direction and asked, “Susan, will you please lead us in the flag salute?”
Oh my gosh. I was terrified. I had always been timid and shy and on this very first day – I was filled with horror at her simple request. I felt 30 sets of eyes staring at my back and I started to panic. I wanted to cry, I was so scared, but Mrs. Barrett waited patiently…….and smiled with those persuasive eyes that made me want to please her……….and so I did, from that day on.
A week or so later, we were asked to write an essay entitled: What I Want to Do When I Grow Up. We were reminded that we live in the greatest country on earth, that nothing was out of reach for us no matter our background, our gender, our race, our financial status……..we could do anything we put our minds to. Because we lived in the U.S.A., there was no stopping us from attaining even the highest goals. Anything was possible and she encouraged us to dream BIG!
That assignment changed each of us forever. We now had an advocate that believed in us. No longer were we little kids without purpose in life; that day we became children with a dream. Mrs. Barrett transformed our attitudes, our desires, our confidence, our courage and the way that we acted towards one another. From that assignment I gained the determination to become a teacher. I knew without a doubt that I could accomplish my dream, even though the odds were stacked against me. My family didn’t have a lot of money and none of my relatives had ever gone to college, but that didn’t matter. Mrs. Barrett opened my door to the American dream and it was at this time in my young journey that I knew for a fact that this would be the career of my future.
Over the years, I occasionally called on my favorite teacher. After entering college, I came back to visit during breaks, and she continued to persuade me to follow my dream. The last time I spoke to her was in 1983. She was so proud of the fact that I had been teaching English for over 5 years. Her feeble voice was drowned out by the rhythmic machines that breathed life into her. Sleep overcame her tired body and tears spilled from my eyes as I witnessed the timeless beauty drain from this amazing woman. She gave strength and courage to so many and it was overwhelming to helplessly stand by as that hope escaped its solemn refuge.
During her memorial service, past students filed in, row after row – to offer a final farewell to their beloved teacher. Mrs. Barrett’s career reigned for more than 30 years and she influenced so many……there were hundreds in attendance, the bleachers and chairs were filled to capacity.
A prior student, NASA Astronaut, Lieutenant Colonel James Riley, approached the microphone and a hush fell over the place. He placed his right hand over his heart and quoted the well-known words……I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America…… A thunderous roar exploded as the unison chorus joined with him to give honor to a country where opportunity is offered to all…more and less…by the land of the free, the home of the brave. Mrs. Barrett opened the eyes of each of her students to this opportunity…..and then she instilled in them the aspiration to succeed.
Thank you Mrs. Barrett……and thank you U.S.A. I am proud to be an American.
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