I believe in respect for all people.
I grew up in the Deep South and still live here today.
It was a tradition at my elementary school. Every spring, a boy and girl in the seventh grade were elected by the whole school to be king and queen of the May. When I was in second grade, we all adored the queen as she marched in to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” with her king. This was true for each year until I was in seventh grade, when a dream came true: I was elected queen of the May.
On that soft spring afternoon, I felt so beautiful, important, and loved. I wore a long white dress with a full skirt with layers upon layers of organdy. It had spaghetti straps. Mama had taken me to have my hair done at the beauty parlor. The mother of a boy in my class made my crown—a delicate tiara bedecked with tiny pearls.
As I stood in the park that afternoon in 1963, my brothers, my father, my mother, everyone seemed to think I was beautiful.
The king and I marched in regally to the music of “Pomp and Circumstance,” while the May Pole stood in the center of the festival ring festooned with long pastel ribbons, braided perfectly by the sixth grade girls who had just completed the May Pole dance.
Being May Queen is a pretty singular experience. But I chose to tell about it for this reason: I felt affirmed as a person, and that is transforming. The May queen experience is simply a vivid example of that in my life.
When I began to teach school after college and marriage, my main passion was the history I was teaching—passing the knowledge on to the next generation. But in the course of teaching history, I was taught by the students. The school became a laboratory for opportunities to affirm others.
I had some rough times with particular students in the inner city school who didn’t seem to respect me or what I was teaching. Then I began to see that every STUDENT deserves respect, which brings me back to the May queen experience. If I remained open and looked hard enough, I found something to love and affirm about every one of them. I found every one deserved respect. And then I had the opportunity to transform. Teaching history became even more powerful and rewarding in that context.
I am no longer teaching school, but I carried this lesson learned in the classroom with me.
I believe that in life there is something to love, affirm, and respect about everyone.
The day I became May queen, I felt, in the words of the John Denver song,
The leaves will bow down, when you walk by
And morning bells will chime.
That was transforming.
I believe if we are open to affirming others in our life, we play a part in transforming them.
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