I have been remarkably blessed to be surrounded by strong female mentors throughout my life. Even in my darkest times, I’ve always had someone who represented all of the things that I aspired to be – strong, confident, dignified, smart, and so much more. I have been inspired to greater and greater heights by the women who surround me.
Today I had an opportunity to revisit one of these extraordinary mentors – the first in a long line of women who helped me to save my own life.
Judy Kelley was my history teacher both freshman and junior years of high school. That sentence doesn’t even begin to cover who and what she was in my life. She was a voice of reason in a world that didn’t have a lot of reason in it. She was a pillar of strength when I needed someone to be strong for me. She believed in me so fiercely that it made it impossible for me give up on myself.
Let’s be clear – her classes were terrifyingly tough for a kid who’d never had to work very hard in school before. But failure was not an option. More than any other adult in my world, her words carried weight and meaning. I still remember the notes she put on some of my papers. I was gutted the day that I received a paper back from her that said, “This reads like a first draft.” Getting an A in her class was like winning a marathon.
And even when I did fail, she didn’t let me give up. There was only one test in high school that I ever failed, and horrifyingly, it was in her class. I got a 58%. As far as I was concerned, it was the end of the world. But she didn’t allow me to give up!! She told me that I could give an extra credit presentation for the class. I worked my tail off to do a good presentation. When it was done, she raised my test grade to an A. It’s not the grade that sticks so much in my mind, it’s the fact that when I fell down she gave me the opportunity to pick myself back up. She held out her hand, but she made me do the work.
Today I got to spend a couple of hours with Judy Kelley as an adult. And this extraordinary woman is still exactly the same – interested, engaged, ready with a probing question and an encouraging word. Even 20 years later she cares deeply about her students. I am blessed beyond words to be one of them.
Thank you, Mrs. Kelley. You have made an indelible impression on my life. I am forever your humbled and grateful student.