One day my sixth grade teacher, Juanita Cooke, drove me home from school so she could talk to my parents. She told them that I had been given a solo in chorus that day and had rehearsed in the auditorium in preparation for the upcoming school concert. Random people in the halls, secretaries in the main office, and a custodian or two wandered into the auditorium to listen as I sang a song that launched my passion for being heard. I was as surprised as anyone that I could carry a tune. Being the youngest of five in a busy household, I could hardly rise above the din much less hear my own melody. Miss Cooke implored my parents to enroll me in a musical theater camp to help me develop my talents, which they did. My Pennysaver route paid for half of the tuition, which made it all the more dear. The camp was full of creative kids with various talents – some with professional training and experience. Although many were well beyond me, being there at Miss Cooke’s urging helped me feel confident and capable of uncorking talents I didn’t know I had. I can say for sure I never would have had that exposure without Miss Cooke’s encouragement. Although life eventually crowded out time for me to pursue music and theater, looking back, I believe those passions defined me. I learned to balance being humble (God gave me those gifts) with accepting praise with grace. I learned to be a leader – in a solo in a concert or on stage in a play – yet learned that you cannot bring a character to life unless you hear and understand what they think and feel. Performing on stage in front of large audiences unleashed power, inspiration, dreams for me. Miss Cooke, you reached deeply into me and brought my talents to the surface. In so doing, you helped me define my career and my aspiration to help others be heard. My wish for my own as well as all children: may you have a teacher or other critical adult in your life who helps you realize your talents, and advocates for you, to find what makes you whole.

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