Sometimes it is hard not to believe in fate, or destiny, or in a supreme being, when something extraordinary happens to you. Sometimes several extraordinary things happen to you, in a rather short period of time, and then you begin to believe in miracles. I'm Daniel Garcia, an Arizona native, who was working as a school librarian, at an inner-city school, K-8, with a predominantly Hispanic student population. I was happy to be able to serve my community in some capacity. The school where I worked, was part of a small district, located in working class neighborhood, as was the case with the three other schools in the district. The term 'working class' was generous; 'working poor' would be a more appropriate designation. The school district was in deep financial trouble, which lead to the closure of one school, increased class sizes, and the termination of some teachers, and three of the four librarians. I was one of those librarians who were terminated.
As it turned out, it was difficult for me to find a position anywhere in Arizona. I tried California and Texas, without much success. One interview in San Antonio, Texas, and that was it. I sent applications to several districts in Florida. No results. Then, I got a call from a small town in Florida. They were interested. The personnel assistant quickly pointed out that they could not reimburse me for travel expenses, but they would like to interview me. I said I would go to see them. In short, I was hired as a high school librarian.
I was in my new hometown less than a week, when I went to the local public to get a library card. There I met Melanie Seidel, the librarian in charge. She was very attractive, friendly, and happy to meet me. We talked for a while, and she invited me for dinner at her place. She said it was a 'welcome dinner.' I accepted of course, I'm not shy and I'm not a fool either. I wondered, was this a twist of fate? Was my guardian angel taking care of me? How was it possible that this library goddess had no boyfriend, that she was available? But, I guess one cannot question fate. And your guardian angel knows what's good for you.
Over dinner, she asked about my previous job, and how I had ended up in Florida. I told her the whole story. I also told her I had recently completed my commitment to the Arizona Air National Guard, that I was single, no girlfriend left behind in Arizona, and that I liked to work in my chosen profession. 'Have degree, will travel', kind of thing.
She seemed very interested about my military service. Told her I had gone to basic training in San Antonio, and then I was sent to Virginia, to an Air Transportation Apprentice course. It simply meant that I was trained to load and unload airplanes and trucks properly. Melanie was taking in all this information attentively. I understood why very soon. Her dad was a career officer in the Air Force, a 30-year man, still on active duty. She was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, but had grown up attending schools in different states, and school for military dependents, when her dad was posted overseas. Her mom was a devoted military wife and mother. She loved the travel, but moving was always difficult.
I imagine I got extra points for having been in the military.Maybe that put me over the top. Anyway, Melanie and I became very close. But one thing I would never ask her was why she didn't have a boyfriend when I met her; that would remain a mystery to me.
A few months into my first year as a high school librarian, I began to notice a student whose name was Jeff Mulligan. Jeff acted more like an adult than a teenager. In my previous position, I had met a student named Matteo Martinez who behaved just liked that; all business, a young man with a purpose and a plan.
Matteo had a gift for mathematics. His 8th grade teacher, Anne Kelly, a young and talented educator, made arrangements for him to take more advanced math classes, at a nearby high school, He would walk the three blocks between the two schools, then return to Ms. Kelly's classroom. He was tall for his age, so he went unnoticed at the high school, and he was left alone by his peers. Janet, a single mom, told his son Matteo to concentrate in his studies, and she would concentrate on making a living. They were a team, she told him. She advised him not to make excuses about being poor, living in a bad neighborhood, and to ignore the bad behavior of others.
Matteo finished high school a year early. Anne continued to monitor his progress through his high school years. She kept in touch. Anne had met Janet for the first time, when she visited her at home, after school, to let her know about her son's talent for math,and to seek her permission to have Matteo take Math courses at the high school. Since then, Anne, every time she visited Janet and Matteo, would show up with a bag of groceries. Janet used to go out for pizza with her son. Janet worked very hard during the week, and the pizza parlor was the place where they could talk about how things were going. Sometimes, at least once a month, they were joined by Anne, who had a standing invitation to join them.
Matteo attended the University of Illinois, on a full scholarship. He earned a degree in Actuarial Science in three years. Then, he was recruited by a big insurance company near Chicago. He took his mother with him. Anne Kelly also moved to Illinois, and found a teaching position in a town very near where Matteo and Janet lived. Eventually, Matteo and Anne got married. Janet still lives with them. They all get along very well.
Clearly, Matteo skipped adolescence, and Jeff Mulligan was doing the same. This was interesting to me, because I had read that the traditional view set adolescence between the ages 13 and 19, that is to say the "teenage" years; but nowadays it was believed that adolescence was expanding at both ends of that age range, from before puberty to age 25 .Kids were growing up faster and remaining adolescents longer. This is why the behavior of Matteo and Jeff was so noticeable to me.
Jeff Mulligan's parents were both lawyers, who worked together as a team, and who had built up a small law firm of their own. Jeff was their only son.
Jeff wanted to finish high school in 3 years or less, and he was on his way to achieve that goal. He was a good student, excelling in English, History, and Government. He was weak in Chemistry, Science and Math. His closest friends were Michelle and Tracy, two volleyball players who excelled in all subjects. He had known them since Kindergarten. Michelle helped him with Chemistry and Science; and Tracy.helped him with Math. Jeff told me one time, "It is smart to hang around smart people, Mr. Garcia."
Young Mr. Mulligan wanted to work with his parents. He planned to become a paralegal first. It would take him a year to get a Paralegal Certificate. He would go to law school later.
One day after school, I went to the public library to talk briefly with Melanie, and I saw Jeff, Michelle and Tracy in one of the study rooms. On my way out, Jeff was leaving also, and we began to chat outside the library.
"We saw you talking with Ms. Seidel, Mr. Garcia. Michelle and Tracy have seen you together before. They think you make a cute couple."
"I consider myself very lucky, Jeff. But I cannot get over the fact she didn't have a boyfriend when I met her. She is gorgeous."
"I don't know. Nobody knows. But, you know, most of the single guys in this town only care about football, drinking beer, going to bars, and partying all the time. I don't think she would want to be part of that scene."
"It makes sense. Jeff, how are you doing with your studies. Are you managing well, having two girlfriends and all."
Jeff smiled and he said, "I'm doing well in all my courses. Michelle and Tracy help me with my weakest subjects. They are not my girlfriends, just long time friends. They are in love with each other. They are super intelligent, and excellent athletes. I'm sure they can get an academic scholarship, or an athletic one. They are applying to the same universities; institutions which have good academic programs along with volleyball teams."
"So, where are they applying?"
"Florida and California mainly. Some colleges in North Carolina. They would prefer to stay in Florida, and it is very likely they are going to be recruited by one of the Florida universities. They told me they would attend the college that accepted both of them. They want to stay together."
"Okay, so Michelle and Tracy are out of the potential girlfriend list. But a friendly guy like you must have someone."
"Well, I hang around a lot with Amber. She is a paralegal at my parents' law firm."
"Is that legal, Jeff? You are only 17. Wouldn't you get her in trouble with the law?"
"No. She's is 22. If she were 24, it would be statutory rape. Florida law."
"Wow, that's a future lawyer talking. So, what attracted you to her?"
"We like each other. We can talk to each other. We seem to have the same plans for the future .She finished a paralegal program at a community college. Now is working on a Bachelor's degree online. Then she's going to go to law school, part-time. I'm planning to do exactly that. Personally, I want to qualify myself to work in a law office as soon as possible, not to attend school for what amount to seven years."
I remained quiet for a few moments. I thought about the 'extended adolescence' I had read about. Jeff was avoiding that. He thought like an adult. He wanted to get to work. I told Jeff, "Well, I'm glad you have a plan. You know what you want to do. Many others go to college without a clear idea about what they want to do."
He said, "I'm glad too. But I have to tell you, it is really Amber's plan. I'm just a copycat."
"That's perfectly all right. She can advice you and help you. She's showing you the way by example. She is a good girlfriend for you to have."
I had to do some grocery shopping for Ms. Seidel, who was working late, so I bid Jeff Mulligan farewell.
I don't pretend to draw general conclusions or theories, based on my contact as an educator with two exceptional students. I'm simply presenting you with what I learned from my observations and conversations with them; from their life stories, my own experiences, and my professional reading.
These two students, Matteo and Jeff felt very comfortable among adults, get along with them, and socialize with them.They had no siblings. A general perception of others, is that an only child is spoiled; but family size is not a factor. Parental attitudes is the important factor.
Jeff and Matteo were not antisocial. Jeff had a solid friendship with Tracy and Michelle. Matteo couldn't have friends of his age; his maturity and his school environment did'nt allow that. That would explain why Matteo built such a strong friendship with Anne Kelly.
These two young people loved their parents. Matteo loved Janet, listened to her, appreciated her support, and took her with him to Illinois. Jeff loved and admired her parents, and wanted to work with them, to be like them. They liked teamwork. Matteo, Janet and Anne were a team. Jeff had two teams, one at school with Tracy and Michelle, and one with his girlfriend Amber. They, Matt and Jeff, liked small groups. Matteo, Janet and Anne at the pizza parlor, and then all three reunited in Illinois. Jeff, his parents and Amber working in the same law office. Matt and Jeff avoided crowds, and had a way of avoiding conflicts with others. Never got in trouble.
Well, everything was going well. I was happy to be in Melanie's life. Tracy and Michelle were attending the same college in Florida, and still playing volleyball. Jeff breezed through the Paralegal Certification, and Amber kept making progress toward her bachelor's degree. I get the feeling Jeff and Amber are going to be attending law school together.
I have always felt that education was a two-way street. I learned a lot from these young students. It was a privilege to have met them.