She was 2.5. She and
her 4 year old brother had just learned of the joy of Batman and Robin, courtesy of the 1997 movie of the same
name- the worst Batman movie ever made. George Clooney played the role of the
caped crusader and I suspect it was the motivating factor in his co-founding Casamigos later in life. After subjecting the world
to that Batman movie, George had to make up for it by giving the world good
tequila. It was only right.
The movie was awful.
It was campy and the dialogue was cheesy and there were people dressed in
monkey suits. It was an awful thing to watch but my kids loved it; it was like
a cartoon come to life. And having watched it over and over and over again, the
children came to the conclusion that they would take up the roles of Batman and
Robin, with our son being Batman and his little sister, his trusty side-kick.
They didn’t have
costumes. Unlike those talented moms who can fashion together a costume for
their children from scraps in their sewing room, my children’s mom can’t even
sew on a button. I would actually love to learn how, but at this point in my
life, that ship has sailed. Plus it involves math, which automatically puts me
off. So the need to be Batman and Robin resulted in tying small blankets around
their shoulders to serve as capes and going on many adventures in the backyard
and around the house. The dog played the villain on more than once occasion.
Now, my daughter’s
blanket was a blue checkered pattern with a squatty little cowboy in the
center. She had other blankets, of course—pink and lacy and girly, but no-THIS
was her blanket of choice. She wore it everywhere. EVERYWHERE. And most people,
upon seeing a toddler girl with a cowboy blanket around her neck correctly
assumed it was serving a “dress up” purpose and so they would try to engage her
“Oh, aren’t you
darling! Are you a princess?”
Yikes. I’d hear that
question and wince because I knew what would follow every single time. And I
felt sort of bad for the stranger asking the question. They meant well, of
course, but to my daughter, it was a huge offense. Her eyes would blaze, she’d
put her hands on her hips and declare with the righteous indignation of a
cowboy blanket caped crusader:
“NO. I AM ROBIN!”
Of course, at first,
she couldn’t pronounce Robin, so it came out as, “NO. I AM RYE,” which only
added to the confusion. “What is she saying? Your kid thinks she’s bread?”
“I AM ROBIN,” became
a battlecry. Each time she said it, she became a little more indignant. She
even started thumping her chest as she spoke. It got to the point where I would
try to head-off each pissed off toddler encounter by introducing her as “Robin,
from Batman and Robin,” accompanied by a face that said, “Humor her with this.”
But she never gave up
and she never gave in. She knew who she wanted to be. And armed with a cowboy
blanket and fierce determination, she let the world know that she was not a
princess…SHE WAS ROBIN. She would not be be swayed. In a sea of princesses at a
preschool parade, my daughter was the girl with a blue cowboy blanket tied
around her neck and pride on her face.
Why am I telling you
all of this?
I’m telling you this
because children are my most favorite kind of people.
I’m telling you this
because “weird” is wonderful.
I’m telling you this because I now have a freaking amazing adult daughter who loves her makeup and dresses and heels but also shows up to things with no makeup, un-showered, and wearing ratty clothes; a daughter who knows who she is. I’m telling you this because The Robins of the world change it.
100 years from now, no one is going to care
who I am. I know this. I don’t mean that in a bad way and I don’t say it in the
hopes someone will contradict me and shower me with praise; this is not said as
No, I say it because it’s true. 100 years from now, no one is going to care who I was. The same probably goes for you, too. In fact, with a few exceptions, it goes for most people. Command an army, serve as president, discover the cure for stupidness…history will remember you. But for most of us, this simply isn’t true. History won’t remember us. The wonderful everyday glorious things we did: raise a family, work hard, bake a mean apple pie, help our neighbors… these things will never make it into the history books.
But when it comes to our family, well, that’s
a little different. They are the people who could very well remember and more
importantly, WANT to remember. To them, we will be part of that marvelous root
system from which future generations sprang to life. We will be part of their
story, whether they like it or not. I mean, you can pick your friends, you can
pick your nose, but you can’t pick your family, right? You are stuck with them
and they with you. And most of the time, that’s a pretty great thing.
But what will they know about us? After all,
time has a way of blurring the details. Family stories get changed, ever so
slightly, with each telling. It’s to be expected. Tales are told of my Sicilian
grandfather, Carmelo, who played poker with his Sicilian “friends” in the
basement, and how each put their gun on the table during the game so that no
one would end up the casualty of a sore loser. It’s a great story-no wonder “Goodfellas”
is one of my favorite movies.
And while stories like this are a part of how
I know a man I never met, I know him more from photos like this one: a man
playing a banjo, his vineyard behind him, a dog at his feet.
In fact, I know more about my Sicilian grandfather from this one picture than I do any story.
I look at this image and see a man who loved music enough to pose with his banjo; a man who loved his dog and whose dog clearly loved him (check out that adoring expression) a man who was poor but donned a tie and hat because obviously, this photograph was important; a man who smiled at a time when smiling wasn’t “cool.”
No one but a handful of people in the world
care about this picture. But to those handful, this picture is everything. I
don’t have many photos of my grandfather. Photos were expensive and my dad’s
family were dirt poor, so few pictures exist of this wonderful man and his wife
and their 13 kids in their house on the hill in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. But
with this one photo, I feel like I KNOW my grandpa.
Last night was the APS Gold Bar Gala, which means this morning, I woke up on a high. For those of you unfamiliar with an APS Gold Bar, it is a peanut butter and chocolate treat that once graced the lunch tray of lucky Albuquerque Public School students until someone somewhere said “too much sugar” and the delectable treats were removed from the lunch line-up. It couldn’t have been an easy decision. Those Gold Bars go way back. They were like lunch room currency. I’m sure there was a collective groan across the city when they ceased production, a real Obi-Wan Kenobi moment: “I felt a great disturbance in the Albuquerque Public School System, as if thousands of students voices cried out in terror and Gold Bars were suddenly gone.” The Gala portion of the night was created to recognize and honor 14 selfless high school seniors and 2 hall of honor educators. Put the two together, and you’ve got the Gold Bar Gala.
Now, you might think that the high I am currently ridingis a result of consuming two, yes, two peanut butter and chocolate gold bars at the gala, the first of which entered my mouth before I even ate my salad, but, you would be wrong; it’s only part of the high. The real reason is that last night was everything good in the world and when you are surrounded by people dedicated to making a real difference in the lives of children and their community, you can’t help but wake up with a spring in your step. Hopefully, that spring will last all day, ‘cause I don’t even want to know how many calories are in those Gold Bars. I should have just glued them to my hips, ‘cause baby, that’s where they are going to end up.
A little backstory: Kelsie and I were thrilled to attend a tasting of the Gold Bars at the APS Food and Nutrition Services kitchen. The over 900 Gold Bars were hand dipped in chocolate by the students of Sandia High School Culinary Arts, under the watchful eye of Unna Valdez. It felt sort of like Kelsie and I had both won a Gold Ticket and were visiting Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I’m not sure who Kelsie is in this scenario, but if you’ve ever seen me eat chocolate, you would know that I am definitely Augustus Gloop.
As we arrived at the Gold Bar Gala, we were greeted by mascots from all of the high schools. They were high-fiving guests, giving hugs and posing for pictures. It would have been nice if I had thought to photograph them. I didn’t. I ran into friends immediately upon arriving and forgot. This may or may not but definitely DID have something to do with Gold Bar Excitement.
The evening was simply wonderful:
As the night wore on, we heard story after story about the impact that one favorite teacher made on a young life. We watched high school seniors honored for being the unsung heroes that walk the halls of our Albuquerque high schools every day, doing as much good as they can to as many people as they can without a thought of reward or recognition. (Which is totally why they deserve both)
We laughed. We cried. We felt hopeful and proud of our schools, our students, our teachers and those that support them. And at the end of the evening, we left with a reminder of that which we already knew full well…that ONE person can make a difference.
And if ONE can make a difference, imagine what many could do…they could change the world…for GOOD.
While I love all of nature, I have a thing for mountains. Rocks, even. For while flowers and trees are beautiful, they can be uprooted; they can be devastated by weather and destroyed by fire.
But rock and mountain, well, they are different. They are unmovable. They are solid. They exist for thousands of years. And the markings of time etched into their surface only makes them more beautiful.
Is it any wonder I would choose such a spot for two people in love?
I photograph a lot of high school seniors and over the years, I’ve had the great fortune of meeting some incredible human beings. Too many to even begin to count, really. High school students with amazing attitudes and stories; students who might not be the star quarterback or homecoming queen, but whose lives are making a difference in this world. And so we partnered years ago with the APS Education Foundation to honor these unsung heroes who walk the corridors of our high school every day.
Kids who do the right thing not for glory or accolades, but because it’s the right thing to do.
We give our all to the Selfless Senior program because we believe in putting our money where our heart is…and our heart is with the incredible young men and women who will one day be our future.
The 2017 Class will be honored tonight at a huge presentation filled with family, friends, teachers and lots of happy tears. And while they are the ones being honored, I am so very honored to know them.
Natalie Chambers: Next+Gen Academy Natalie coordinates events at Nex+Gen as part of the ambassador program. She spearheaded the Buddy Program, which pairs juniors and seniors with incoming freshmen. She lives on her own with no car, but always finds a way to attend school events and volunteer in the community. Teacher Krystal Irby writes: “Natalie leads by quiet example. She is humble and very quick to notice and recognize the contributions of others. She has overcome many obstacles in her own life and always seems to have so much to give to others.”
Kawai’ola Wong: Eldorado High School Kawai’ola has become a leader in the programs he serves, including Boy Scouts, the Eldorado High School choir program, Youth Ministry, Ukulele Club, and the Gay Straight Alliance, among others. Matthew Aguilera, his mentor and youth director, writes of Kawai’ola: “The biggest difference I see between Kawai and other giving students is his ability to commit and tenacity to stay with it for more time than he is needed to ensure the program’s success and his individual success.”
Clarissa Morales Chacon: Atrisco Heritage Academy Clarizza will be a first-generation high school graduate. Along with her academic achievements both at Atrisco Heritage Academy and through courses provided by UNM, Clarizza also serves as the co-president for the MESA/Dream Makers Club and as the president of the Bilingual National Honor Society. Diane Russell, at Atrisco, writes, “This student continues to humble me.” Clarizza plans to finish college and continue on to dental school.
Pholopater Faltas: Highland High School Pholopater, also called Phil, donates his time to the Saint Thomas of Canterbury Church, Explora, Princeton Place Rehabilitation & Nursing, and UNMH Emergency Department. Phil was born in Egypt and last year became a U.S. citizen and now works to help other foreign students by organizing study groups. Teacher Mark Ramirez writes of Phil, “He will leave behind a lasting legacy of … an established tradition of student body commitment to the school, to APS, and to the community of Albuquerque.”
Wendy De La Cruz: Manzano High School During her freshman year, Wendy’s mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Wendy took her mother’s shifts cleaning offices at night to help support the family as well as take care of her younger brothers. She also gives her time to the community through the AVID program, Educators Rising and the Spanish Honor Society. Teacher Francesca Martinez wrote of her: “… Wendy will take the initiative and do things without being asked or told.”
Timothy Mondloch: Del Norte High School Tim participates and has taken leadership roles in numerous activities including band, National Honor Society, Tri-M Music Honor Society, Black Student Union, Environmental Club, and Speech and Debate. Tim also finds time to care for his elderly grandmother and tutor elementary school students. Stephanie Cooper writes of his panel participation, “His knowledge of current events and his articulate position on rights for people of color drew applause from an audience of community leaders.”
Susan Hastings: Volcano Vista High Susan volunteers with Children’s Miracle Network and Sunset View Elementary. Susan also serves as a caregiver for her father, who lives with a traumatic brain injury, and works with patients who also suffer from similar injuries. Susan herself has a genetic eye retinal detachment, which impairs her vision, but not her attitude. Friend Joshua Moorhead writes, “She is able to make my friends and I smile, laugh and enjoy our time together with jokes and creative ideas.”
Kelsey Clark: Cibola High School The numerous individual organizations, community events, individuals and programs Kelsey has supported, include the Suicide Awareness Program with the Jason Foundation, Operation Smile, her elderly neighbor, Roadrunner Food Bank, “Days for Girls” Project, the Palmilla Senior Center and many more. Her basketball coach, Lori Mabrey, writes of her, “She does not wait for someone to ask, she acts. Kelsey makes you want to do more.”
Amanda Miner: Sandia High School Amanda’s determination to succeed is evident through her engagement in several school activities as well as her dedication to the International Baccalaureate Program at Sandia High. Amanda started the Students for Students club, providing over 400 survival bags for homeless teens last year. Counselor Candice Kuhlman writes: “It isn’t easy to motivate teenagers to get out of their comfort zone, so Amanda has shown true leadership skills to make this happen.”
Adela Castaneda: Rio Grande High School Adela not only volunteers through the National Honor Society but also volunteers with Presbyterian Hospital. She also volunteers her time at her church daycare and at an elementary school reading to students. Laurene Pena, sponsor for the NHS, wrote of Adela, “She doesn’t volunteer for her own recognition … she does it because she truly cares about other people and wants to make a difference in the lives of those she helps.”
Reagan Vice: La Cueva High School Diagnosed with autism, Reagan took part in La Cueva High School’s Best Buddies program and was paired with Wes Swainston, a 2015 Selfless Senior. Reagan has shown a passion for helping other students. Wes writes, “What separates Reagan from his fellow seniors isn’t his disability, it’s his drive to make people happy, to make people feel good about themselves and to make sure everyone knows that they have a friend so no one feels the pain of being alone.”
Adriana Torrez: Valley High School Adriana has been involved in the Valley Senate, MESA Valley Academy and the National Honor Society. She also volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club. She has worked with young students on STEM activities and helps collect donations for the homeless. Serri Grube, MESA sponsor at Valley High, writes, “She has the best attitude about life and is so willing to help in any way. I have never seen her without a smile. She has an amazing personality.”
Ana Kilgore: Albuquerque High School Ana currently serves as the Student Body Vice President and National Honor Society Secretary. She is a member of Bettering Lives in Small Steps and Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement. She is also involved with Make-A-Wish, Roadrunner Food Bank and her church. Albuquerque High’s Stephanie Dunn wrote of Ana, “She sincerely gives her entire heart and soul to helping out Albuquerque High School and her community.”
Guadalupe Moreno: West Mesa High School Lupe has dedicated herself to helping those less fortunate by collecting food and clothing donations. She has also packed snacks for those getting ready for the PARCC exams. She volunteers with her community senior center, and she and her mother help care for an elderly neighbor. Counselor Emilia Ramirez writes, “She always acknowledges everyone, is kind hearted and is one of the most humble teenagers I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.”