I am not embarrassed to admit that I can get emotional and cry easily when I am watching or sharing a story that tugs at my heart. I have been known to shed a tear or two during a sad movie, a faculty meeting, celebrating a student’s achievement during a recognition program or speaking to other educators about my personal life journey. Most often my tears come from the joy I get from others when they share a personal story or take time to give me a compliment about some small impact I made on them during a period of self-doubt.
I just returned from ISTE 2014 inspired and full of hope, but for more reasons than you might think. Yes, I was moved once again by the inspirational words of outstanding professionals in our field who give me hope such as @adambellow, @gcouros @jcasap @MsMagiera, @kckatalyst and others. I was touched and emotionally moved by conversations with @jasonmmarkey, @tomwhitby, @techninjatodd, @NMHS_Principal, @PetticrewC @curriculumblog @dominiquedynes @robert_ schuetz @HalLRoberts and @MNebel @cybraryman1 just to name a few. Yet surprisingly, it was the generosity and gentle nature of one man who literally moved me to tears in the front seat of a shuttle van.
His name was Rodd Jackson.
Rodd was working the evening shift for Hampton Hotel when my good friend and colleague @colinwikan and I stepped onto the shuttle to take us to Turner Field for the Braves/Mets game. Immediately, Rodd greeted us with a wide smile and asked us where we were headed. To the Omni hotel I shared. “No problem, be glad to take you,” said Rodd. “Let me first take these folks for a nice pasta dinner and then I will get you to the Omni.” As we drove down the road, Colin and I tried to make friendly small talk with the other guests in the shuttle until Rodd informed us that they were Russian and did not speak any English. As I sat there, I watched in admiration as Rodd attempted to communicate to these folks for the next 10-15 minutes with so much sincerity, respect, and patience that for a moment I thought to myself how this gentleman of 42 years should be in a classroom teaching somewhere. After all, his caring and sincere disposition alone would touch the heart of any student, parent or guest who stepped foot into a classroom or school. When we finally arrived at the restaurant, he rushed around quickly to open the door and assisted in getting them to the right entrance of the restaurant. He jumped back into the vehicle as though he was energized to assist us, his next customers, to our destination. How refreshing it was to hear Rodd talk about the Russian guests in such a positive light as he drove down the road. I can assure you had it been a cab driver who had shuttled them they would have been cursing them all the way back to the station based on our experience with Atlanta cab drivers this week. As he drove, Rodd engaged Colin and I in conversation the entire time. But this was different. There was a tender tone and genuine sincerity in his voice as he spoke to us. Suddenly, he asked me for how long I had been a principal. “Twenty years,” I said. “Wow, that’s a long time. You must really love what you do,” he responded. “How long until you retire,” he asked. “I love what I do so probably never,” I shared.
What Rodd asked me next completely caught me off guard. “How many students have come back to tell you thank you for making a difference in their lives, he asked? “Two,” I responded in a joking manner. As I tried to think about his question in my head, I thought to myself, “now that is what our world should be all about – making a difference.” I laughed and rescinded my initial response with, “Who knows? Hundreds, I hope. Maybe even thousands because I have been at it a long time.” As I turned to look at him still wondering why he had asked such a question, a look of sadness and despair had come over his face and I could tell his eyes were watered. “I wish I would have gotten a chance to tell my high school principal thank you, he said. He was the one who believed in me and helped me to graduate from high school. I cared more about partying and avoiding work than I did studying, but he stayed on me. He would often ask me when I was acting out if how I was behaving was appropriate. I still remember that because as I got older I figured it out. And you know what? He was right.” “It’s never too late, I said. Why don’t you just call him and let him know?” “Because he passed away,” said Rodd. He went on to share that he had told his principal’s children and his widow how much he had meant to him, but he couldn’t help but state once again that he wished he could have told his principal personally how much he admired him and taught him about life. He wished he could tell him that he went to college and graduated with a degree in Interior Design. He wanted him to be proud of him. “I am sure it meant a lot to them that you took the time to tell them the impact he had on you, I said. I bet they truly appreciated your kind gesture and hearing about the impact he made on you and others I am sure.” As we pulled into our destination, I could feel my eyes welting with tears. Rodd had touched my inner core with his heartfelt story about his principal. As he drove off, all I could think about was my hope and desire to make that kind of impact on my students that someday they might share with a complete stranger the kind of impact I made on them. Honestly, I wished we had not arrived so quickly to the hotel because I wanted to keep talking to Rodd so I could learn more about his story.
Within 10 minutes I realized I had made a mistake and had gone to the wrong hotel where we were meeting friends who had planned to take us to the game. Eventually, Colin and I made our way back outside with the idea of hailing a cab to the game. As we walked out of the CNN building, several cabs were heading in the opposite direction. In the middle of traffic, a shuttle van stopped, the window rolled down, and a man hollered at us. It was Rodd. I ran across the street and explained to him that I had erred and that we were now going to have to take a cab ride to Turner Field. “Hurry up, get in,” he said. “Are you sure?, I said. You are going in the wrong direction.” Rodd called back, “It’s no problem, I will take care of you.” I yelled for Colin and we both jumped into the back seat. “I thought you couldn’t travel that far out of your perimeter,” I said. “I can’t, he stated, but I will take you the shuttle area and they will drop you off right in front of the stadium.” And this he did.
Let me just say this world needs more people like Rodd Jackson. Admittedly, there are days when I wish I had a million dollars. Not so I could go out and purchase a new car (by the way, I have never driven a brand new car off the lot), or buy a bigger house or even hire my own personal chef to cater to my love for food. Nope. I wish I had that kind of money so I could fly the Rodd’s of the world to my parent’s house and give them a gift from my heart – a taste of my mama’s home cooking. It would be like Undercover Boss – you know, the show that features the experiences of senior executives working undercover in their own companies to investigate how their firms really work and to identify how they can be improved, as well as to reward hard-working employees like Rodd. At the end the executives return to their true identity and request the employees they identify to travel to a central location—often corporate headquarters (in this case, my mama’s house). The bosses reveal their identity, and reward hard-working employees through promotion, or financial rewards.
I hope and pray that the executives at the Hampton/Hilton Hotels realize and take the time to recognize Rodd for the value and the pride he brings to his work every day (maybe even fly him to corporate headquarters to personally thank him). Knowing Rodd for the short term I have I would guess he would deny or reluctantly accept because in his heart it is not about him, but his customers. For my part, I hope I was able to thank Rodd in a different kind of way since I am not a millionaire. I called the Hampton when I got home tonight and I spoke to the assistant general manager ( I also emailed all of the Hampton executives and shared my personal experience with Rodd). I expressed to her how much I appreciated Rodd and told her how fortunate they are to have someone of his caliber working for them for the last six years. I was also able to talk to Rodd directly and tell him how much he meant to me and the impact he had on me as a principal, even after 20 years. I also asked him if he was okay with me sharing this story in a blog post and reveal his identity because schools, small businesses, and large companies alike need to know that there are still people out there like Rodd Jackson who take tremendous pride in their work every day and who are the true catalysts for hope in this world. Rodd Jackson touched my heart and reminded me to take a moment to say thank you to those who make us feel like we are the most important people in the world, the world according to Rodd, where generosity and service to others is the most important gift we can share with others.
Thank you Rodd for sharing your gift with me and for bringing me to tears (of joy) again tonight.
With deep admiration,
Generosity: The habit of giving freely without expecting anything in return.