Twice a Trojan, Always a Trojan

“To be a Trojan means to me that no matter what the situation, what the odds or what the conditions, the completion must be carried on to the end and those who strive must give all the have and never be weary in doing so.” – Owen Bird, 1912

Four million five hundred seventy-three thousand six hundred and sixty-five minutes elapsed between my first steps to become a teacher and my final strides to the podium at Founder’s Park. Despite unexpected twists, turns, struggles and overwhelming odds, my odyssey of eight years, eight months, twelves days, three hours, and forty-five minutes gave me some of the most memorable moments of my life and shaped me into who I am today, a Trojan.

In retrospect, I have been surrounded by the Trojan spirit for the majority of my life. My life as a Trojan began before my first log into the MAT@USC. In the fall of 1998 I was a freshmen at Lyman Hall High School, home of the Trojans, in Wallingford, Connecticut. Lyman Hall is, and will forever be a special place to me because of the teachers who helped keep me on the right path. These were the first individuals to showed me how important and powerful teachers are in the lives of their students. Without Mr. Nick Economopolous, who would keep me out of trouble by allowing me to help manage his state championship girl’s basketball team, or Mr. William Paquette, who gave me the confidence and swagger to speak out and influence people around me, or Coach Chuck Burghardt, who put his faith in me to lead our baseball team to its first state championship since 1969, I would never have realized my potential to become a positive influence in the lives of others. 

In 2004, I returned to my alma mater as a teacher’s aide in the special education department. These students are the embodiment of the Trojan spirit and are a major source of inspiration to me. Despite severe handicaps, these students came to school each day eager to learn and yearned to be connected to something special. Their personalities were infectious and uplifted the entire school. I will always remember the birthday celebration our schol gave one senior boy. After several years at Lyman Hall this boy earned the position of morning announcer. Each day he would great the school with a jolly tone and make sure we had “a wonderful day.” As the school year came to a close, and his birthday drew near, several teachers devised a plan to give him a special moment. On his birthday the entire school lined the halls, donned the boy with a cape and crown, and cheered him on as “the king” made his way to his special seat in the office to read his morning announcements. These were the moments that remind me of how special our profession is. Lyman Hall has also been a source of emotional moments for me. I have experienced the devastating feeling of the loss of a student’s life and the difficult role of consoler to heartbroken teenagers. I have witnessed fights, failures, and discouraged students lose their way, all while losing many nights of sleep wondering what I could do to put an end to this. These are the students that motivate me to strive to become the best teacher possible because a teacher’s job will never be complete until all students succeed. 

Becoming an English teacher was difficult and at times overwhelming. I was an average English student in high school mainly because I never appreciated great literature. This would all change when I met Dr. Lawrence Kinsman at Southern New Hampshire University. Dr. Kinsman is the reason why I became an English teacher. His passion for the written word was far beyond anything I ever experienced. He challenged me to become an academic, something I never considered myself to be before. I would soon find myself lost in the minds of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekov. Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad, was the first book I independently completed in his class with pride. After leaving SNHU and returning to Lyman Hall I was fortunate to have been supported by a wonderful English department who encouraged me to pursue my dream of teaching. Without Mrs. Susan Gomes, who encouraged my technological creativity and passion to teach, and Mr. Dan Kennedy, my sophomore English teacher turned close friend and fellow baseball coach, I never would have reached USC. Dan helped guide me through difficult failures and struggles in college, never giving up faith in my abilities. Whenever I needed advise or a critical editor he would always be there to remind me of how hard I needed to work to become an English teacher. Now, when I sit down to review my students’ essays I take the same care and pride he gave to me.

As I was completing my final courses at SNHU I was left with the unsettling feeling of “where do I go from here?” I knew I had to find a teacher credential program, but I was unwilling to give up my teaching and coaching at Lyman Hall. My final years at SNHU were completed online and became a wonderful fit for me, but I was beginning to come to grips with the reality that I may have to leave my job to complete my degree. Then, I began to get bombarded with advertisements from USC on my GMail and Facebook accounts (social media is a wonderful tool). Intrigued, I placed a call to the number provided and spoke to a hip girl named Feather. Over the next several weeks Feather and I would hash over the wonderful benefits to this new and innovative MAT@USC program. Every concern I had was met with an optomistic response that strengthened my interest to apply. I chose the MAT@USC because of the stellar reputation of the Rossier School of Education, the innovative technology used within the program, and the fact that the online program was developed and taught by on-campus faculty. I knew my USC degree would be a valuable asset after graduation, but I had no idea how amazing the Trojan family was until I began to connect myself to the vast USC network.

From the time I first logged into my Orientation course I knew I made the right choice. USC made me feel a part of the family because, as they put it, I was! Dr. Sundt was the first face I saw in the program as she took me through several USC traditions. By the end of my first week I was wearing my cardinal and gold cheering on our football team as they battled UCLA! Despite being across the country, I was a USC Trojan. 

I had wonderful professors at USC, but I will always remember the consistent passion shown in my weekly sessions with Dr. Brandon Martinez, Dr. Michael Genzuk, and Dr. Carlos Cortez. They were excellent examples of how to be facilitators of education. Learning was a shared experience that allowed each student to lead discussions while the professors interjected their expertise at appropriate times. I felt a sense of individual and communal ownership of the learning that inspired me to use their approach in my own classroom. Their innovative nature helped me to not accept failing standards and outdated concepts. They showed me to take pride in my role as an educator and to always place priority on the needs of my students. Great professors, as shown through these three men, are not great by coincidence. Their hard work, passion, and intellect inspired myself and many of my follow classmates. 

My classmates are the reason why the MAT@USC was a special experience. Thanks to weekly video conferences and social media many of us became close and was a main source of support throughout the program. Placing a face with a name was reassuring and gave us a deeper connection than traditional discussion boards.  I will always be grateful for the support of my friends through this past year. Graduation was a special and unique time for my cohort since we experienced both graduation and orientation together. Seeing my friends for the first time, free from a 1×1 digital box, was exciting and one of my fondest memories of the program. Their warmth, optimism, and joy made me miss our time together in class, but gave me confidence in our ability to stay in touch. Despite the diverse backgrounds and locations of my classmates our bond was as strong as any on-campus program. I was especially happy to finally meet my friend Ariel, the one person I took just about every USC class with, and her wonderful fiance Jeremy. There was not another person I would trust more to complete assignments with or to keep me grounded during our PACT submissions. Without USC I never would have been able to meet such wonderful, committed, and passionate new teachers to whom I am confident will become stellar educational advocates and leaders.

And boy, does USC know how to put on a show! The pride Trojans have in their school is second to none. Listening to the Trojan Marching Band play each school melody made me proud to be a Trojan. 

Graduation day was additionally special for another reason. On graduation day my fiancee woke me with the wonderful news that we were awarded apartment housing a block away from her medical school at NYU. I am now in the process of preparing to relocate, but I see this as a wonderful opportunity. My goal is to find an innovative, technology rich online and/or on-campus school to teach for that preferably serves high need communities. Eventually, I would love to establish an innovative charter school. For now, I am excited to teach my first online course at UCLA, Integrating New Media Literacies into the Classroom, because I will be able to share my passion for technology in education with current teachers. However my next odyssey begins I am grateful to have been afforded these past four million five hundred seventy-three thousand six hundred and sixty-five minutes. Without them I never would have formed my passion for teaching and the close bonds I made at Lyman Hall, SNHU, and USC. With these experiences I am ready to take on the challenges of our current education system and, like my fellow Trojan classmates, Fight On to Victory!  

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