My daughter, Lori, delivered my first granddaughter into the world May 6, 1989 during the running of The Kentucky Derby. Sunday Silence won the Derby and Nicole Rebecca won our hearts. She was a petite little girl with striking blue eyes, curly brown hair and a winning personality. The memories of her childhood came rushing back as I sat watching West Chester University hold their 139th Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on Sunday December 16, 2012 at The Hollinger Field House in West Chester at 10 a.m.. The Guest speaker was Cheryl Fulginiti, (class of 1980), Vice President of Engineering, United Parcel Service, Inc.
Nicole Rebecca Vanszl, of West Chester, PA, formerly of Muhlenberg, PA graduated magna cum laude with her degree from the College of Education. Her parents Craig and Lori Hevalow of Muhlenburg, and Vincent and Hallie Vanszl of Mt. Penn, proudly watched with me, her friends, and family members. Ellen Vanszl, her other grandmother and a former teacher who served forty years in the classroom, was cherishing each moment.
An only child, when she first went to school she wanted to hug all the children. She was always a very loving and giving child. I had a local TV show and she would marvel,”Mom Mom how did you make yourself little and get in there. How do you do that?” When I took her to the studio she begged, “Please please let me go on the air. I will bring all my toys and give them for Toys for Tots and people can call me and donate more for the children.” I should have known her love for children would persist.
Nicole is currently pursuing a teaching position and is willing to travel to find the right match for her career. Since a teenager she has reached out to children with compassion beyond her years, volunteering with Easter Seals to help special needs children.
As she prepares to begin her career in education, she had this to say about the recent tragedy in Connecticut:
“Speaking as someone who just finished teaching a class of 19 first graders for four months, I know the bond a teacher makes with their students. I know a large part of a teacher’s job is to make sure each child feels safe and cared for in the classroom.”
She continued, “As a teacher, you are a guardian to a group of children who depend on you and need your protection from all things harmful. I can’t imagine the feeling that (the school principle) must have felt in the moment that she knew she couldn’t protect those kids from this man… …It’s heartbreaking. It’s equally as heartbreaking to know this gunman was a child once too, probably one who needed help. “
Nikki added her strong emotions about these situations, “I have heard too many people talk about a child that is bad, the one that a teacher ‘doesn’t know what to do with’. The answer is just listen to them, don’t blow them off. Don’t roll your eyes-- Be patient-- Be kind. And fight every step of the way to get them the help they need. “
“I have seen too many kids obviously screaming for help, and too many adults fail them. Teachers are advocates for the kids they teach. So if we’re talking about ways to help right now. Parents, teachers, coaches, babysitters- listen when they need you to and don’t give up on them... find a way to stop these situations before they start.”
Nikki exemplifies the caring and compassion that are needed to follow this career. She was born to teach. Yesterday’s little girl is all grown up now and I am very impressed by her insightful words. This is the tomorrow we and our children face, a nation struggling with what happened in Newtown.
May God bless our children and our teachers.
A famous writer once said,
“The women I know with strong personalities, the ones who might have become generals or the heads of companies if they were men, become teachers. Teaching is a calling, too. And I’ve always thought that teachers in their way are holy--angles leading their flocks out of the darkness.”
Jeannette Walls, Half Broke Horses