Editorials by Robert Kirwan

The Small Things You Do For Others Can Leave a Lifetime Impression
   Last week I bumped into a former student of mine. During the course of the conversation this young lady made it a point to thank me for something I had done when she was in my Grade 8 class. She thanked me for convincing her to go into the General Program (for those of you who are a bit older you will remember the four-year and five-year programs in high school) instead of the “remedial or basic  program” in Grade 9.
   Despite my periodic memory lapses, I actually recall giving her that advice many years ago. I remember that she always dreamed of getting into a career that required a college diploma, and if she had entered the “basic level”, she would not qualify for entry into college. I told her that I had seen an ability that even she perhaps didn’t know she had. I tried to inspire her to “raise the bar” and aim higher than anyone else, including herself, thought she was capable of. She was always willing to work, and as far as I was concerned, that work ethic and that personal passion for achieving her goals would be enough to help her overcome her learning difficulties and succeed in achieving her goals.
   The former student went on to explain that over the years she often drew upon the confidence I had expressed in her abilities to help her overcome challenges and self-doubt over the years. She said that whenever she felt like quitting in high school she would remember what Mr. Kirwan told her, “You have the ability if you put your mind to it. It will take a lot of hard work, but you can do it. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Don’t take the easy way out.”
   I thanked the young lady for her kind comments and after a short conversation we parted ways. For the rest of the afternoon I was on ‘Cloud 9’. That young lady has no idea how good she made me feel inside. She may have been thanking me for giving her the inspiration to get through high school and then on to a College diploma, but I realized that I am the one who should have been thanking her.
   There is no greater satisfaction on this earth than that which comes from knowing that you have made a real difference in the life of another human being. And there is no way of verbally describing the feeling you have inside when that person acknowledges the difference you have made. Everyone has this feeling at different moments in their life so you all know what I mean. As a former teacher, I have had the good fortune to experience that feeling often. But parents, grandparents, coaches and volunteers encounter these moments as well.
   The conversation with the former student helped me recall an essay another one of my pupils wrote after our Grade 8 Toronto field trip. He described all of the usual highlights during the five day trip, but he concluded his essay with a paragraph that I will never forget. He said that the one thing he will always remember the most about the trip was when we were all leaving
Ontario Place to catch our bus back to the hotel. He described the moment when we happened to come across two elderly ladies in a dark area of the parking lot. One of them was in a wheelchair and the front wheel had come off. All I did was stop and put the wheel back in place so that the two ladies could proceed back to their car. To me it wasn’t anything special. It was just the thing to do. But my student wrote about how I had asked the group to wait while I assisted the ladies. He described how everyone watched in silence while I knelt down beside the wheelchair and did my best to repair the wheel enough for her to continue on her way.
   As I said above, to me, it was not such a big deal. These ladies needed help and I just did what I could to help out. But to this student, and obviously to the friends in his group, this act of kindness that they witnessed being done by their teacher left a lasting impression.
To him, it was the highlight of a trip that everyone still talks about every time they get together as adults.  The simple act of helping another individual left that kind of impression on this teenager.
   As I think back over the years, I realize that we all have so many opportunities just like the one I came across with the two elderly ladies in the parking lot at Ontario Place . We all casually leave lasting impressions on others who come into our life. The least, little courtesy, the simplest, kind word, perhaps a bit of time spent "just being there," or even, I suppose, the most fleeting, careless kindness, like fixing a wheel for a stranger could be a gesture that someone else remembers for the rest of his or her life.
   I will always remember my former student standing there in the hallway of the shopping center, thanking me for giving her the confidence to persevere in high school. She absolutely made a lasting impression on me that day with her kind words. So as you go about your day today and tomorrow, and for all of the tomorrows after that, just remember that you too are leaving lasting impressions on others.

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