The White House Is Calling

Frank B. Withrow - The Dawn Patrol

One day my superintendent called and asked if I had invited JFK to be our commencement speaker. Why he would suspect me of inviting the President I do not know. I had no idea what he was talking about. He said, “Find out who did,” and hung up. I talked with the class officers, and, oh yes, Albert James, the secretary treasurer, wrote the president. Albert was a kid who, at thirteen, had a beard heavier than Richard Nixon’s. He was the kid whose dormitory mates could send out to the local store to buy a six-pack and no one would ask for an ID. From preschool to high school, his teachers had noted that he was an underachiever not living up to his potential.

John F. Kennedy at his desk in the Oval Office, phoning. Photograph by Abbie Row 8.23..1962

In his last year he discovered science fairs. He entered and won the local and went on to the state where he came in second. His fame led his classmates to elect him secretary treasurer. As such, he thought President Kennedy would make a wonderful commencement speaker. He knew enough to go to the superintendent’s office and obtain letterhead stationery and wrote a letter to the President asking him to speak. JFK had already made a commitment to speak at a nearby college and the White House said if we scheduled our commencement to coincide, the President would consider speaking. Wow! Albert thought this was nothing out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, the President was shot in Dallas and we never finalized the arrangement.

Albert went on to go to college after graduating from high school. He attended a junior college and then got a degree in theology. I believe he became a minister to the deaf community in Oklahoma.

I like to think his entry into the science fair for the first time allowed him to know that he was smart. It gave him confidence to dream impossible dreams. It gave me the chance to negotiate somewhat with the White House staff.

Too often we as teachers know a learner is underachieving but cannot find the key that unlocks their potential. We must always search for that key.

Every learner has potential, and it is the teacher’s privilege to find the key to unlock it.

Impossible dreams are there to be fulfilled. Dare to be great. It can happen in the most remote isolated classroom. To be a teacher is the noblest calling in this world. No one influences the future more than teachers.

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