May 2 – 6 has been designated by the Department of Education as Teacher Appreciation Week. This is my story; take some time to tell your own.
In August 1977, a rather awkward and, yeah nerdy, thirteen-year old boy walked into his first day of Latin class at New Providence Junior High School in Clarksville, Tennessee. Latin wasn’t something he was particularly interested in, and he didn’t know anybody who’d taken it, but he just figured it was the natural thing to do given his singular focus on academics. Little did he know that selecting that course, at that time, would have the profound effect it had and continues to have on his life.
It turns out that Clarksville, Tennessee, then a town of about 40,000 near the Kentucky border and known (if at all) as the birthplace of Wilma Rudolph and Sgt. Carter of Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. fame, was also home to a husband and wife team of Latin teachers who taught all of the Latin classes across two Junior High and three High Schools in the county. Grady and Kaye Warren, didn’t just teach a class though – they inspired their students to perennially become tops in the nation at an annual gathering of secondary school students of Latin and the classics: the National Junior Classical League Convention. Over the years their students have become artists, lawyers, doctors, Rhodes Scholars, broadcasters, West Point graduates, college professors, teachers, and yes, even Microsoft Developer Evangelists.
You see, Latin and the classics were not just courses of study, these subjects were and continue to be their passion – and they communicate that passion not just via their craft but through their dedication to their students. After-school study groups became my extra-curricular activity; sessions of volleyball, spades, cookouts, and certamen (quiz bowl) practice were my “summer camp;” and for four years I excelled as one of the top Latin students in the country. As validating as those successes were at the time, they are little more than footnotes now.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that much more importantly, Grady and Kaye Warren, through their inspiration to excel, taught me to reach beyond what I thought I could grasp, to work hard but do so purposefully and with passion. Their home was a weekend-evening mecca for both past graduates and current students across the county – inspirational people, people I would not likely have met otherwise, and people whom I count as my closest friends some 30 plus years later.
Although I pursued a career path in computer science, I know they continue to harbor hopes of my coming to my senses and becoming a Latin teacher. Despite my personal failing in that regard, their passion for the classics was far from lost on me. I served eleven years on the National Board of the very organization they introduced me to as a high school freshman, and I’m making plans now to see them this summer again – as I have for the past 33 years at the National Junior Classical League convention.
Grady Kayeque, maximas gratias vobis ago,
me qui hodie sum facere adiuvistis