In usual circumstances, I wouldn’t endorse a candidate via my blog. However, we are not in usual circumstances these days, and are in need of fresh voices speaking for the best in all of us. Besides, in this case, I have a personal connection to Florida’s Democratic candidate for governor. And I believe the state where I’ve mostly lived since 1980 is in serious trouble with its dangerous gun laws, under-performing schools, low-paying jobs, horrible health insurance options, and nonexistence environmental protections on a very fragile state. We need a governor who can take charge and bring Florida into this century and reality.
I had the privilege of teaching Andrew Gillum during his sophomore year of high school at Gainesville High School. I saw in him all the qualities I see today whether on the debate stage, on CNN, ABC, or Noah Trevor’s show. I recently wrote about my memories of him for his campaign. Today, I share it here as the deadline for getting out the vote is less than a week away.
Whether you agree with me or not, please get out and vote on November 6, 2018. Our future depends on who we elect next.
Memories of Andrew Gillum
When Andrew Gillum walked into my honors English class at Gainesville High School as a sophomore more than twenty years ago, I sensed something different about this male teenager. His focus on his education and his drive to be a leader within the school became evident in everything he did. I am not surprised by his meteoric rise within the Democratic party, but I am in awe of his forward movement as a compassionate leader, and his dedication to his family and community.
I watched him grow from a fifteen-year-old student government officer to become the student body president of a school with a population of 2,000. I watched him show compassion for and offer friendship to a fellow student who was challenged by a physical handicap and who was often ostracized by her other classmates. Rather than worrying about what others might say about him, he stood up for what was right and fought hard for all students. Without any doubt, I can attest to Andrew’s maturity beyond his years when still in the impressionable and difficult teenage years. He never gave into peer pressure because he had his eye on becoming a successful man who made a difference. After teaching thousands of teenagers over the years, I can’t think of another student in his category.
As I watched him give his acceptance speech after he won the primary, my eyes filled with tears of joy and pride, and I remembered a younger Andrew coming to me one day after school. He hadn’t always been encouraged by his teachers to go into honors and Advanced Placement classes, but he knew that’s what he wanted for himself. Even in the 1990s—and probably somewhat today—students were often put in tracks at a young age based on cultural and racial considerations. But Andrew didn’t believe in letting others define him by anything other than his determination to work hard and get the job done. In his sophomore year of high school, he registered for honors’ classes, but within a short time, he realized all on his own that his past years in his English classes had not given him the skill set to master more analytical essay writing required in the honors and Advanced Placement courses. He knew he had the motivation and talent to succeed but he also acknowledged he needed help.
So, one day this gangly fifteen-year-old male student stood before my desk after the final bell had rung to end the school day. I don’t remember his exact words, but I do remember what he wanted. He wondered if I would help him work through his essays if he stayed after school a day or two each week. I don’t know if I showed my shock or if I fell off my chair, but I do remember that I took notice because in all my years of teaching never had a student asked if he or she could stay after school to learn how to be a better student. Yes, I’d had coaches ask me to tutor star athletes and parents request extra help for their children, but never had a young man asked me all on his own for help. Teenage males don’t often admit weaknesses, especially to female teachers. But that’s what Andrew did.
And unlike the other students, Andrew showed up. He came, and he listened, and he learned. And he applied what he had learned to his writing. Not only was he the first in his family to graduate from high school, he graduated with a superior record of achievement. That’s the Andrew I know, and more than two decades later, I still see in him that young man willing to learn, listen, and work hard to make the world better for all Floridians. I believe he has the energy, common sense, intelligence, and perseverance to be the best governor in the history of Florida.
In fact, I believe so strongly in Andrew Gillum that one day I predict I will be telling this story about the President of the United States.