Several years ago I watched a thought-provoking film, The Great Divorce, based on the book by C. S. Lewis. In one particularly unforgettable scene the central character boards a bus we later learn is headed for the foothills of heaven. The ride nearly lulls him to sleep, until movement in the distance jars him awake. Straining to see miles ahead, the man eventually glimpses a woman emerging over the rise of a hill, walking confidently and happily.
He watches with fascination as she comes nearer, his gaze shifting to the strange but fantastic sight of a veil – multicolored and shimmering – trailing for miles behind her. Fascination turns to amazement as he realizes that, incredibly, the woman’s “veil” is alive, formed by a seemingly endless stream of people.
Her veil, it turns out, comprises all of the people she has ever touched, nurtured or supported in some significant way during her life. Her living veil is the literal measure of a lifetime of giving and compassion.
This allegorical woman could have been a teacher. And at this time of year, when commencements launch new waves of graduates into the world, we should all take time to acknowledge and appreciate the indispensable work done by educators, in all schools and at all levels, in our community.
We all remember those special teachers who kindled new insights or renewed drive that opened new worlds for us.
If we could see these teachers’ veils, they also would be teeming with the faces of all the individuals whose lives their teaching changed.
When children enter grade school they begin a new life in which they spend more time with teachers than with their parents. As a result, today’s teachers are called on not only to instruct their pupils in academics, but to nurture their emotional, intellectual and social growth, as well.
To a great extent it is teachers who instill the passion to pursue one’s dreams and the zeal to continue learning which, combined with academics and practical skills, are key to a successful life.
I see the profound and enduring impact of teachers every day at Bellevue Community College.
I see single moms break away from poverty and fashion whole new lives, thanks to their teachers’ encouragement and support.
I see young people who arrive at college directionless but, inspired by their instructors, set a path toward exceptional achievement.
I see older students, whose worlds have turned upside down because of a lost job or poor health, find a more promising future through the coaching and urging of a concerned teacher.
I see students who never believed they had the skills or brain-power to achieve but, fortified by encouragement and re-assurances from their teachers, learn to apply themselves and, ultimately, build successful lives.
Over BCC’s 42-year existence our teachers have fashioned a “veil” of more than half a million people.
The same breath-taking legacy is left by teachers in all our community’s schools, from pre-school through twelfth grade and beyond. With veils comprising thousands of former students, teachers leave their indelible imprints on all our lives, not just in terms of personal learning but in the overall quality of life in our society.
Teachers weave the cloth of community with human thread, as their students go forth to make the world a better place for everyone.
Again this year teachers in the greater Bellevue community added thousands of new images to their brilliantly colored, vibrantly energetic and miles-long human veils. Their service should never be taken for granted — it is to be admired and appreciated.
Jean Floten is president of Bellevue Community College.