By Julie Wiessner
The Holbrook Unified School District’s theme for this year is Reach For The Stars, so what better keynote speaker to have than Aaron Yazzie, who helped with the Curiosity rover and its mission to Mars? His encouraging words helped set the tone for teachers, administrators and support staff to place lofty goals in front of students at each of the district schools.
Yazzie, a 2004 graduate of Holbrook High School, recounted his journey from grade school through Stanford University, and the importance of those who place challenges and big goals in front of the students in their charge.
The main focus of his speech, though, was on his school life in the district from kindergarten to high school graduation, and how his teachers were always challenging, encouraging and pushing him to become all he could be.
He remembered the oyster crackers from Mercy Muñoz that were used to encourage him to create a descriptive sentence, that he was Student of the Month in Cindy McDaniel’s class, the incubating and hatching of chicken eggs in Lois Jeffers’ class, and how he fell in love with math in Beth Plumb’s class. “Mrs. Plumb engaged students very well and made me love math,” he recalled.
He remembered the Rick Hurst stories, saying, “He was one of the best teachers I ever had.”
Of Faith Caffey he noted, “She is Oprah, Ellen and Judge Judy all rolled into one.”
When Lance Phaturos, currently principal of HHS, was his history teacher, “What a perfectionist he was and he wanted us to review our notes mightily. He flipped us pennies when we got it right,” said Yazzie.
He mentioned that his mom, Shirley Yazzie, taught Navajo Language and someone asked him, “How did she separate teaching you and being your mother?”
With his mother in the audience, he responded, “Very well.”
Yazzie also remembered Rick Nichols sitting on his desk, reciting Shakespeare, and how Barbara Foree gave him his first “B.” To her he said, “You held us responsible for our own education and your class prepared me very well for college.”
“My experience here, was a very positive one,” he said.
In his closing comments, Yazzie shared a saying that he has used in his life, “Dare Mighty Things.” Taking the saying apart, word by word he explained, “Dare. Dare them,” speaking of students to the audience of teachers, staff and administrators, “Challenge them, push them and make them stretch farther than they have ever been before.”
“Mighty,” he continued. “Give them the tools they need to succeed and learn to be more confident.”
Lastly, “Things,” said Yazzie, “Just do things that are challenging for students. Everybody in the district has a part in challenging students to prepare them.”
For Holbrook school staff members, the call to challenge students began Tuesday, and students will receive that challenge from all in the district for the rest of the school year.
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By Julie Wiessner