The Start of a Great Friendship

So how does one get off to a good start launching a blog? Easy. Tell a good story about a great person. Here goes:


In the Fall of 1992, I landed the assignment of teaching a speech class at Houston High School. I think the principal and scheduling counselor were proceeding under the dim theory that if a teacher loved to talk as much I loved to talk, he would make a good speech teacher. I remember the mild sensation of panic when I got the assignment to teach Speech. I thought, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?” Not to worry. The class was loaded with twenty near-genius students. I recognized that fact right away, and I vowed to myself to just stay out of their way and see how they handled the curriculum assignments. At the top of the genius list was Jolene Bagley and (her future husband), Mike Perry. That speech class was a once-in-a- lifetime gift. We presented expository speeches, demonstration speeches, oral interpretations, and drama skits! Jolene and Mike blew all of us away with their creativity and unbridled imaginations. I learned to love those two, and I loved teaching that class every day of that semester.


Jolene followed the speech class into my drama class the next semester; Mike followed another drama, Lisa Somebody. It’s okay Mike; we missed your talent, but we struggled on without you.


So how often do you get to teach two classes full of creative and imaginative students in one year? Jolene, Lisa Lockett, and a cast of others became a production team to breath life into Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Lisa memorized half the lines of the play for her role of The Stage Manager. She didn’t biff a line! Jolene became Emily, the dramatic center and driving force of the entire play. I have produced the play dozens of times; I have seen the play professionally produced several times; I have never seen an Emily as perfect as Jolene’s characterization. She was sheer magic!


Two years ago, at the end of my third hour American Literature class, I took out my cell phone, put it on speaker, and speed-dialed Jolene at home. She answered and I asked her, with no introduction, “Emily, what are the most important lessons you remember from our production of Our Town twenty years ago?” Jolene’s response spoke point for point to every major theme I had just taught that class the preceding month. There was an audible gasp and then clapping for how well Jolene remembered every important lesson and how she had incorporated those lessons into her life each day. Those students will never forget that class!


I could only guess at what success lay ahead of Jolene. She has lived a charmed existence as a French teacher, a Math teacher, a wonderful wife, a house-designer, a lover of dogs, an Amazon-published author, the mother of two gifted, creative, and energetic children: Emma and Jack, and the daughter of two very proud parents: Jim and Jamie Bagley. I count her as one of my best friends who just happens to be my newly-appointed writing mentor.


Jolene delivered the 2014 CTHS commencement speech as a personal favor to me, and to our principal, Mark Okeson. The applause for her masterful and carefully crafted speech was long and genuine. Jolene made everyone look great that day!


Frequently, Jolene and I chat about books, writing, raising and loving our children, loving dogs, the joys of marriage, the curiosities of religion, and just about every topic imaginable. No filters exist in our conversation. We don’t finish each other’s sentences, but I admire her sentences; we both have to reign in our own enthusiasm in order to hear each other’s thoughts. I have few friends, but I have only good friends: I count Jolene’s friendship as one of the greatest gifts I have received from my long teaching career. Jolene makes me believe in good Karma.


Jolene and I have the relationship every teacher and student should have: we have remained friends for almost twenty-five years; we will continue to do so for many years to come.


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