We worry as a society because there seems to be a noticeable lack of ethical behavior in today’s world. We’ve seen our fellow citizens gloss over lies when convenient and often make excuses for acts that might have been deemed unacceptable in the past. When individuals have the courage to speak up for their principles too often people chastise them for not going with the flow of modern day thinking. It is more and more difficult for someone to demonstrate moral courage because in doing so they may become the butt of insulting tweets or Facebook posts that demean them rather than celebrate them as the noble people that they are.
Joanna Rodriguez is my own personal hero. I watched this quiet and unassuming young woman become a warrior for justice at a moment in time when few of her peers were willing to step forward to do the right thing. There was an incident at the high school where I was the Dean of Faculty in which a group of students were caught attempting to make copies of an exam that had been stolen from one of the teachers. The principal gathered the members of the class together hoping that someone who had information on the culprits might acknowledge the truth. Instead there was a deadly conspiratorial silence in the room as the teacher emotionally urged his students to speak the truth.
Suddenly Joanna emerged from the back of the room and stood defiantly in front of her classmates. She spoke eloquently of the importance of providing information on anyone who may have been involved in the cheating. She was so moved in her search for the truth that her voice broke and she seemed to be on the verge of tears. Her classmates stared incredulously at her and for a time nobody spoke but they had indeed heard her words. Not long afterward several other highly respected members of the class secretly revealed who had been involved in the scandal.
I was in awe of Joanna Rodriguez for the depth of her character and for the bravery that she had exhibited. It was not in her nature to be the center of attention but it was very much like her to be a champion for what is right and just. I knew back then that our world was going to be a better place because it would have young people like her moving into positions of leadership in the future. Now Joanna is ready to assume the full mantle of adulthood as a graduate of the University of Houston Downtown with a degree in education.
Joanna has worked long and hard to reach this moment and she is more than prepared to become a teacher at KIPP Voyage Girls Academy this spring. She excelled in her classes and did an outstanding job as a student teacher. Little wonder that she was recruited by more than one school district. She has chosen to return to her roots in the KIPP Charter system to pay forward the lessons that she learned when she was young as well as those that she mastered in college.
Joanna will be an exceptional role model for the young ladies of KIPP Voyage. She carries herself with the kind of dignity and confidence that they need to see. She is bright and creative and most of all incredibly loving. I have little doubt that she will be successful at building lasting relationships with her students and that she will show them how to find their own paths to and through life. She is living proof that working hard and being nice pay huge dividends.
Joanna Rodriguez and young women like her represent the best of our future. She has become exactly the kind of person that we hoped she and her classmates would one day be. She is the culmination of efforts from many dedicated people and now she will accept the mantle of responsibility to continue those efforts in guiding a new generation of students. She is so real and so ready to embark on the most important work that anyone might ever do.
Joanna has had an exhilarating couple of months. In addition to completing her university requirements and practicing her craft as a student teacher, she became engaged to a very fine young man. I suspect that the two of them will eventually build a family as strong and loving as the one in which she grew in her own wisdom and grace. Her parents worked in tandem with those of us who were her educators and demonstrated their devotion to raising her well. She has enjoyed a very fine example of parenting that will serve her both in the classroom with her students and later if she decides to have children of her own.
I feel a certain sense of pride that Joanna has chosen to be a teacher. It is one of the most noble professions but it is also difficult. Sadly our society does not always celebrate the importance of educating the young. It sometimes takes true grit to expend the long hours and to endure the criticisms of a society that is willing to pay college football coaches millions while neglecting to honor the men and women who toil unsung in our schools. If there is anyone who has what it takes to rise above the clamor and realize the joy and importance of teaching, it is Joanna Rodriguez.
I hope that she finds as much fulfillment in her career as I did and that she has the pleasure of meeting many young people like herself. I wish for her to find the daily pleasure that is the reward of working with our young. I wish her well as she begins a journey that will be filled with many adventures and blessings. Most of all I thank her for including me in the climb to the top of her mountain. From where I stand the view is beautiful and I see a most wonderful future for her.