I ran everywhere! I never walked. I ran because it felt good. Perhaps you remember the feeling. And, when Mama bought me a new pair of PF Flyers® in the second grade, I knew I was going to be invincible on the playground. You see, I was the ringleader in the game of kiss tag in Mrs. Bessie Schoenfeld’s second grade class at Syracuse Elementary.
One day after lunch recess, Mrs. Schoenfeld pulled me aside and said that Mr. Gailey, the principal, wanted to see me. Now, Mr. Gailey was Mr. Clyde Hyrum Gailey, my father’s distant cousin. I remember walking sheepishly into his office and being given the invitation to sit in front of his desk. My eight-year-old legs dangled from the strategically positioned hard, wooden chair. My eyes were focused on a level with the edge of his desk. Mr. Gailey took his seat behind the desk.
“Michael, what is your last name?”
“And what is my last name?”
“My boy, you have shamed the family name!”
I’m not sure I truly understood “shamed,” but it didn’t sound terrific.
“Michael, you are to return to Mrs. Schoenfeld’s class and apologize to the entire class for your actions today on the playground! Have I made myself clear?”
Returning to class, I shared with Mrs. Schoenfeld my charge. I will never forget the moment that I stood before all of my classmates in boyish contrition.
As impactful as that moment was, I shall never forget what happened next. Sweet Mrs. Schoenfeld busied the rest of the class with an assignment, and drawing me close to her desk, holding both of my hands whispered:
“Michael, why do girls always go first in our class?”
“They’re special, but that is not the reason girls go first. The reason has nothing to do with them. It has everything to do with you! Girls go first, because you want to be a gentleman. It has everything to do with you and who you are. Today you have learned to be a gentleman.”
Time was when Syracuse’s cash crop consisted of beautiful produce. I believe it arguable that our cash crop has changed. Where farms existed, we raise kids! Each year the City invites representative students from each of the schools serving Syracuse to have lunch with the Mayor. I love interacting with the youth – the fruits of your labor!
As we come to the end of the academic year in our community, let’s all take time to appreciate those in our community that educate children. For those of you who home-school your own, you too please stand and take a bow. We are so grateful to those that cultivate the rising generation.
Returning to Syracuse in 1982, I was privileged to provide Mrs. Schoenfeld with dental care. Each time I saw her my heart filled with appreciation; my eyes with tears. She slipped away from the community in 1998, but a little of her lives on in those of us blessed to call her Teacher. Especially this boy, taught to not be ashamed of striving to be a gentleman.
Mayor of Syracuse City