720 lunches

I recently finished my tenure as a board member of The Future Begins Today. This premier nonprofit in our community provides for nurturing, mentoring, and scholarship support to Troy students. One of its most well known initiatives is the Lunch Buddy Program; where a Future Begins Today student is paired with an adult and they share a lunch together once a month. This person serves as a mentor to their lunch buddy, taking an active interest in their life in the hopes of building a positive relationship with a young person that needs them.

While I myself was not a TFBT student, upon reflection, I have realized that I too benefited from a Lunch Buddy, not just once a month, but every day for four years. There is a lot of discussion around education at present, particularly the manner in which it is carried out. Amidst all the policymaking, mandates, and debate; we cannot afford to let the invaluable relationship between the student and teacher get lost in the rhetoric.

Mark Evilsizor,, lovingly referred to as “Evil” by scores of students at Troy High School, was my Lunch Buddy. I had a unique position as a student because I was permitted to sit at the teacher table in the cafeteria; thankfully, next to Evil. By my calculation, we spent over 700 lunch periods together during my tenure at Troy High School. This was one of the greatest honors of my scholastic career because he was someone I always looked up to — and as a young person, everything I thought a teacher ought to be.

During those daily half hour lunches I got to glimpse the humanity, kindness, humor, and grace of a man whose only goal was to make a difference in the lives of his students. That is without question what he did for me. It seemed that nothing gave him more pleasure than taking what I thought was a perfectly well crafted speech, for the high school speech and debate team; of which I was a member and mutilating it with a red ink pen, adding content to make my points stronger. In truth, he not only made my messages more dynamic, but also made me excited to give them. Being in his presence is sort of like watching the sun come up for the very first time, one gets excited but isn’t exactly certain why.

I’ve often heard Evil say enthusiasm is contagious. In this simple yet profound phrase he is encapsulating the central role of any educator; to instill in their students a passion and excitement for learning that they can carry with them all of their days. What made our student/teacher relationship even more special was that he was never afraid to challenge my thought process. Evil always thinks outside the box and he encouraged me to do the same. To him, it isn’t enough to simply say we believe in something, but we have to find out why. Every day that we were together Evil helped me find my why, and over a decade later, my life is all the better for it.

I once heard it said that teachers leave their handprint on eternity. They do this in simple yet profound ways, by making each student they come in contact with find those skills that are uniquely their own. They never shy away from a challenge, themselves or challenging their students to reach their full potential regardless of ability. The handprint that Evil made on my life cannot be measured in standards, test scores, or lessons, but by the time he took in those 720 lunches to awaken those passions and skills in me that have remained with me, and above all, allowed me to realize the unshakeable love and admiration that exists between a student and their teacher.

All teachers have the power to impact who their students will become long after the last textbooks (or computers) are closed. It is my hope that as teachers go back to school in the most bizarre circumstances seen this century, they never lose sight of that one indelible truth. While school may look a lot different this year, teachers’ jobs are more important now than ever. I wish all students a mentor like Evil is to me, one who raises their thoughts beyond their challenges to give them a blueprint for success that will remain with them for a lifetime.