Thursday, August 30, 2007

Never Too Late To Say Thank You

Most people know the importance of saying "thank you". We express gratitude when receiving gifts, when others do favors for us or somehow make our lives lighter, usually we do this in the moment or shortly after receiving the item and that's the end of it.

I have seen the occasional award show where an actor or actress after reading a long list of thank yous, adds their eighth-grade or high school teacher. I never really gave much thought to that additional thank you but lately, I've been having similar thoughts.

In 1973 I was a sophomore at St. Bernard's High School. I was a happy teenager clearly marching to the tune of my own drummer; managing to have a friend in mostly all the cliques without really being a member of any.

One of the classes I had was Behavioral Science with Cliff Nugent. Mr. Nugent only taught at St. Bernard's that one year, 1973, but his was the class I most looked forward to. In this class opinions ran wild and were encouraged, he promoted self-expression and seemed to revel in observing our developing personalities.

Once, when he informed us he'd be showing us the film "Night and Fog", a truly horrendous film about the atrocities perpetrated in concentration camps, the class went ballistic. No one wanted to see this film, though by this point in school, most of us had. People threatened to have their parents call the school, write letters, yada, yada, yada. He just smiled, rather like that cat in "Alice in Wonderland", and said if we could write a paper with a sufficient reason why we shouldn't have to see it, we'd be excused. No one wrote a paper with a sufficient reason, and we all watched it, and all survived.

Where I'm going with this whole thing is that Mr. Nugent made education fun, alive, and a thing to be desired in that room. I wanted to be there having fun, lively, sometimes even heated discussions with my classmates. I wanted to write those papers, read those books, study those concepts. I felt valued and respected by that teacher, and he made me want to learn.

So wherever you are Mr. Cliff Nugent from Fresno, thank you for that class in 1973. It's unlikely that I'll be winning an Oscar in this lifetime so this will have to do. I don't know if you continued to teach or where your life took you, but you had a gift for teaching that was magical and I'll always remember you and be grateful.