A Gentle Warrior

13071824_10154767868523858_4628322278963228627_oAs we travel through life each of us builds special relationships. Sometimes we are surprised at the people with whom we become the closest. We have those unexpected moments when an unbreakable bond is created and we just know that a particular person is a kindred spirit whom we will love and treasure for all time. Thus it is with Johnnathan Lopez.

Johnnathan and I started off with a rather unpromising beginning. He was a student in a class that seemed hell-bent on giving me and all of their teachers a hard time. They traveled together all day long like marauders filled with mischief. They seemed more intent on being funny than learning. A few of the students saddled with the group struggled to behave, but serious was always a challenge. Somehow I just barely kept the crew progressing through the curriculum in Algebra I.

They were a bright and likable bunch in spite of their behavior and if the luxury of time had been mine I would have enjoyed their jokes and their contagious laughter. Unfortunately the clock was ticking and I had endless numbers of skills and knowledge to convey to them. I barely managed to tame them just enough to give them the basics but I always felt as though I was standing on a volcano that was about to erupt.

Right in the big middle of this raucous group was Johnnathan Lopez. He always bore a big, inviting grin and a likable personality that only encouraged his classmates to find new ways of playing with me. Somehow it was impossible not to enjoy him, or the others for that matter, even when they were pushing all of us to our limits. My only worry for Johnnathan and his classmates was that their lack of seriousness might one day land them in big trouble and it wasn’t long that very thing happened.

The students had been working on projects for the annual science fair for many weeks. The day before the event their teacher asked them to bring their completed three panel boards for inspection. She was using my classroom to house the overflow of work. Johnnathan was among the students waiting for her critique in a corner not far from where I was tutoring. When it came time for the teacher’s commentary on Johnnathan’s efforts he and I were both stunned. Essentially she informed him that he had not followed directions for the task and thus would receive a failing grade unless he made revisions. He had one night to correct his mistakes or accept the low mark.

Johnnathan’s shocked expression said it all. He saw little hope for changing the outcome and was about to toss his project into the trash when I stopped him and suggested that with a bit of imagination he might yet create an acceptable display. I gave him access to my computer, my printer and the different letters and colored papers that I always kept in my classroom. He worked until late into the evening and I stayed with him, offering suggestions and editing here and there. Eventually his project had been transformed and appeared to meet all of the requirements of the science teacher’s rubric. The next day Johnnathan presented his improvements to a teacher who was greatly impressed that he had made such an effort to make things right.

From that moment forward Johnnathan became more than just another student of mine. He and I had bonded over the anxious hours when he worked to resurrect what had seemed to be a worthless project. I had learned during that time what a delightful person he truly is and I also listened to the dreams that he had for himself. I decided that I would do everything in my power to help him to achieve.

Over the next four years Johnnathan and I would only grow closer. I was proud when he became the president of his class and when he landed a summer internship at a major law firm. He was blossoming into a young man on the move and a leader, sharing his goals with me as he ticked each of them off. He began to call me “Mama” and I in turn thought of him as a son.

Johnnathan headed to Manhattanville College after graduating from high school. It turned out to be a bad fit for his personality and the ultimate path that he hoped to follow. He came home after his first year feeling a bit defeated, especially when he realized that many of the courses he had taken would not transfer to other universities. He sought out my counsel and I encouraged him to find a university more to his liking and then just keep plugging along, reminding him that earning a degree is not a race.

My husband and I took Johnnathan to Texas A&M University for a tour. He was enchanted with the place and seemed determined to one day be a student there. He learned what they expected him to do to earn a spot in the student body and began taking the classes that they had recommended at Wharton Junior College. He listened and learned from his professors there and made exceptional grades. Before long he had not only received an acceptance letter from A&M but the University of Houston as well. When UH offered him financial assistance his decision was made. He became a Cougar and never looked back.

Today Johnnathan Lopez will graduate from the University of Houston Hilton School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. While attending college he started and ran his own business and interned with a major beverage company. He worked hard and with the same positive attitude that has always been his trademark. Along the way he and I met often so that he might keep me apprised of his progress. Of course, everyone that he encountered in his collegiate journey was as impressed with him as I have always been.

Johnnathan is someone who is good to the very core of his being. He is a loving son, brother and friend. When he sets his sights on a goal he goes all the way until he has achieved it. He has a heart that is courageous, generous and bold. I fully expect him to set the world on fire.

When Johnnathan worked at the law offices way back in the day, he was surrounded by outstanding classmates who were also there. At the end of the summer he was nonetheless the one with whom the attorneys were the most impressed. Several of them told me that they felt that he had a particular charisma that would always serve him well. I have to agree with their assessment. Johnnathan Lopez will soon be off and running and I dare anyone to attempt to hold him back. He is a gentle warrior with a determined grit that will not be discouraged.

My heart is bursting with pride today. Johnnathan overcame all of the obstacles that were thrown in his path and emerged victorious. He is the real deal. Watch out world because here he comes!

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