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10 influential people from my life

All good things must come to an end. We know this truth in life, we just don't always truly know it until we are faced with it, and as this school year closes we are saying goodbye to a man who was not only influential in Jon's life, but thankfully in Calvin's as well. The director (and founder) of the Boychoir of Ann Arbor has been shepherding boys, offering vocal and life training, for thirty years now, and he is retiring. Jon's experience in the Boychoir was important to him, and I feel priviledged to have had the opportunity to meet the man and witness the effects the choir has had on Calvin. Not only has he learned a lot about singing, he has learned a lot about coming together as a group, about honor and tradition, and about shaking hands (strong grip, look them in the eye!).

As we've spent this year, especially the past month or so, saying goodbye to this man who has been profoundly influential for so many, I've spent some time thinking about how formative these years are for children, and the importance of early role models and leaders. And that led me to thinking of my own formative years and the people who saw me through them. Parents aside, of course, because their influence is obvious and special, I have come up with the following ten:

(1) My parents. Yep, let's get the obvious out of the way. I'd say it's a given, but not every child respects their parents or takes their lessons to heart, so I put them first and foremost here because I learned so much from both of my parents, and continue to learn so much from them, that the top of this list is where they belong.

(2) My grandparents, and other extended family members. Another gimme, I'm sure, but my maternal grandmother especially imparted a lot of wisdom that I have carried with me. And beyond verbal lessons, time spent on her hobby farm when I was little I'm sure helped form some of my love for nature. I remember it so vividly. My Godmother taught me to ski like a woman (we have hips!), and later how to sew. My paternal aunt aroused in me a curiosity about my history that fed a later obsession with the broader subject of human history, then evolution. All of my larger family have quietly and influenced who am through our many years.

(3) Early friends (and frenemies). Yes, I realize this is a kind of nebulous list item, but specific names, even the specific people, from so long ago aren't what really matter here as much as the idea of them. The first half of elementary school is a maze of social learning that leads kids down many paths, some of them ending in disaster. I had a few friends who meant the world to me, some who stuck with me, even have stuck with me, through many years, and others who definitely led to hurt. 

(4) The young Authors program at my elementary school. Again, this isn't a particular person, but the program and the team that ran it were invaluable in developing my love for reading and writing. I can't even remember now if it was an in school special, or an after school club type thing, but I remember attending writing workshops where we received encouragement and constructive advice while we exercised our creative writing sides. 

(5) My fourth and fifth grade teacher. She was the kind of teacher who took a personal interest in each and every student. In her class(es, because I had her twice), we put on amazing plays, shared full thanksgiving meals where we learned about etiquette, and earned special Friday night dinners at her house through good behavior. She read aloud to us every day, which definitely deepened my love for reading.

(6) My middle school advanced math teacher. He was terrible—the worst—but I didn't say this list was all about positive influence, it's just a list of the most influential, and he was influential for sure. After a partial year in his class learning, above all else, that math is not, under any circumstances, meant for girls, it took me until my adulthood to regain any confidence in the subject. And you know what? I'm pretty darn good at math.

(7) My high school band director. He was taking no flack from anyone. None. Wasn't having it. And because of that our band was pretty good. But he was also jovial, and very supportive. I definitely remember whole class hours spent discussing important and difficult current issues, and those times were as valuable to our development as the music was. The life lessons I learned in band have never left me (like how to properly hang dress pants on a hanger, for one).

(8) My high school drama coach. Yes I was a band and a drama geek, and it wasn't as IN then as it is now. And it might be that my involvement in the club was as influential as the drama coach himself. I wasn't an actor, I was everything else behind the scenes, and I learned a lot back there, like how to wield a power drill or operate a table saw. Plus you can't beat theater for teaching self respect and confidence.

(9) My high school psychology teacher. This is another one on the list that is not entirely rosy in my memory. He was a difficult teacher, and not particularly nice, but that might be why I learned so much that really stuck with me in that class. I have several "flashbulb memories" of deep discussions in that classroom, including the one that taught me the term "flashbulb memory".

(10) My ninth grade literature teacher. When I got to high school I already loved to read, but my freshman english teacher taught me to read in a different way, opening up a whole new amazing world in my mind. That is a lesson I believe I will keep building on all my life.

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