Late 2016, Dr. Harry Wong emailed me about a great opportunity to recognize my 8th-grade Choir Teacher, Mrs. Norma Freeman. (For those of you who have not seen my show, SIGNing the Song, she is the teacher who CHANGED my life and is the centerpiece of my script). To my surprise, it was “The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards”. I was elated! I mean…Stephen Sondheim? The Kennedy Center? Holy Cow. How awesome would it be to see my music teacher’s name up in lights next to STEPHEN SONDHEIM???????? I quickly responded and got to work gathering all the info I needed to provide for the application. (Special thanks to Angela Alexander for all of your help!)
As I was preparing to write the essay part of the application, I started to read the different stories that other students had submitted about their teachers in previous years. They were beautiful. Inspiring. Real. The students shared how their teachers gave them confidence when they had none, challenged their goals to higher standards, celebrated their uniqueness, and ignited passions inside their hearts to learn and strive towards excellence. Their teachers listened, supported, and made each of their students realize one vital thing. That they mattered.
Mrs. Freeman was no different. She challenged us, supported us, celebrated us, filled us with confidence, and lit that passion inside of us to be better. To be better people. Because we mattered. We had a voice. She was totally a part of this group!
Well, my fingers couldn’t type fast enough! I had SO much to say and with a word limit…I had to call in backup to make my LONG story concise. With the amazing help of Dr. Rosemary Wong, I finished the essay and sent it off with the rest of the application process. So what now?
We all wait.
Wait. Wait. Wait. Until…
I received an email with the “WOW! WC-you are amazing!” subject line. It was from Mrs. Freeman. She had heard from the Kennedy Center that I had nominated her and SHE WAS IN THE FINALS! They had asked her to submit a picture and some words about why she got into teaching. YES!!!!! I so wish I could have been a fly on the wall to see her face when she received the news.
I also received a similar email from The Kennedy Center stating that the winners would be posted on their website on March 22nd at 11 am EST. That was 20 days away! SOO long!!
Mrs. Freeman and I kept in contact…counting down the days. So awesome to be communicating with her on a regular basis. Even though she is retired now, she is still teaching voice, guitar, and conducting choirs for seniors. SHE NEVER STOPS! It was so inspiring to hear how she is still changing lives.
It was March 21st and I couldn’t sleep. At 5 am PST (8 am EST) I finally got out of bed and to the computer. Surely they had updated the website, right? I checked. Nothing. Instead of going back to bed, I decided to be productive. Here is what I got done:
Made coffee. Clicked refresh. Sipped coffee. Clicked refresh. Checked email. Sipped coffee. Clicked refresh. Clicked refresh. Finished coffee. Went to the bathroom. Made more coffee. Refresh. Refresh. REFRESH. Played candy crush with my left hand as I clicked refresh with my right hand.
At 7:55 am (Almost 3 hours…if anyone was counting) the link to the 2017 winners appeared! I froze. I didn’t know what to do! I finally clicked it…and this is what I saw:
SHE WON!!!!!! She was amongst a beautiful list of incredible teachers. I grabbed the phone and called her. We cheered, laughed, told stories, and I may have gotten a bit teary-eyed. Then she said something to me that stopped me in my tracks. “William, YOU have changed my life! This is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me.” While a huge tear rolled down my face, I signed (ASL) to myself “together”. We did it together, Mrs. Freeman.
Click here to see Mrs. Freeman and all of the other teachers who were honored!