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Chester County Press

Editorial: Plotting the true shape of their genius

05/31/2016 02:18PM ● By Richard Gaw
In the course of a year, the Chester County Press makes its footprint in every conceivable crevice and crack of the community you live in, from politics to culture; from classrooms to meeting rooms; from the worst of humanity to the very best of it. It is safe to say that no news story that affects Chester County is left unreported, just as it is safe to say that among these many stories, perhaps our favorite moments are when we attend the commencement exercises Avon Grove, Kennett, Oxford and Unionville high schools.
They are both a culmination and a beginning. They act to close doors behind them, and open new ones to an uncertain future. They are the fervency of celebration, dotted with the language of hope. The photographs that best describe the magnitude of these occasions are too often the ones we never publish, and the stories we write that tell of the pomp and circumstance fail to mention the hundred tender moments that are captured by the reporter's eye.
If you are attending a graduation ceremony at any of these high schools in the next few weeks, look closely and you will see these photographs flicker by you : A teacher, dressed in full regalia, is barely able to contain her pride in seeing that special student – the one who finally listened to her and came to realize his potential – pass by with diploma in hand. When she first knew him, the student was a renegade, defiant and ignorant of the magic he had buried inside of him. She cajoled him. She pushed him. She took the talents he was given, ones that he did not know were even there, and placed them in front of him like gifts, like a blank canvas filled with color.
Growing up in North Carolina, Donovan Livingston was that student. He was disruptive in class. He talked too much. He was in the seventh grade when his teacher, Ms. Parker, made a decision that would alter the boy's entire life. Rather than chastise him or simply shut him down, she inspired Donovan to put all of his excess energy to the best use.
In his commencement speech to the School of Education at Harvard University recently, Livingston referred to his seventh-grade teacher, in an address that is already being called one of the finest of its kind ever delivered. “She introduced me to the sound of my own voice,” Livingston said. “She gave me a stage. A platform. She told me that our stories are ladders. That make it easier for us to touch the stars.”
Rather than raising their voices over 'the rustling of our chains,' Livingston said, teachers should take the chains off of their students. “Un-cuff us,” Livingston said. “If you take the time to connect the dots, you can plot the true shape of their genius, shining in their darkest hour.”
At each of the four commencement exercises the Chester County Press will be covering this year, our stories will shine considerable light on the graduates. Our photos will depict their happy faces as they look out into the audience for their parents and families. You may be in that crowd soon, and if so, we invite you, for only a moment, to recognize the Ms. Parkers of your life or your child's life. There will always be the top students, in any school, whose course in life is self-guided and self-assured. And yet, the best teachers are those who believe that their highest calling is to find those students who exist on the periphery, help them up and point them in the direction of inconvenient places that offer both challenge and reward. 
As Donovan Livingston said, “No, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning. Lift off.”