|Breanna Stewart, at the ESPYs|
I'm writing as a teacher, an educator, an individual who has encouraged young people to write for over 22 years, a Northstar (Class of 1990), and admirer. I first met you when I was a substitute teacher in North Syracuse (shhh! I wasn't supposed to be working on the side while earning my doctorate at Syracuse University, but I needed the money) and, well, I couldn't help but notice that you probably were a basketball player, too. I later learned from one of my favorite teachers of all time, Ms. Rhiannon Berry, another Northstar, that you were indeed an athlete and, in her words, a remarkable human being. The first time I saw you I thought, "I know that face, and it wasn't until I read an article during your UCONN days that I found out why...your mother was also a Northstar! I have vague memories from my NSJH days that she was in winterguard with my sister. That's why you looked familiar. Your Heather's daughter.
I also have stories from my niece, Nikki, who made me laugh one night when she came home from school saying she had gym class with you and she was supposed to block you while playing basketball. My niece is (her words?) vertically challenged and not the most athletic human being in the world (although that is not true - she excelled in winter guard like her mom). She's also a witty kid with an impeccable sense of humor. The thought of her standing in your way to the basket will always make me laugh.
Yesterday, when I saw you Tweet the poetic essay you wrote for The Players Tribune, "Me Too," I immediately read it. I read it a couple of times, in fact, and the word that came to the forefront was "admiration." The second word to follow was "respect."
English educators, like me, who teach high school literature and young adult novels, and those of us who encourage self-expression through writing in our classrooms, have been aware of the Me Too reality for a very long time. The statistics are alarming, but they are also a window into the reality that so many of our young people experience and survive. That is why, while reading your words, I thought of so many of my students throughout the years, male and female, who have shared similar truths. I'm sure you're aware of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak - a young adult novel with CNY connections that has single-handedly changed the ways teachers talk about violence in our schools. Your essay will do the same.
You are a trailblazer. Any anyone who has followed your career recognizes this. In fact, I live in Connecticut now and often went to Webster Arena when the Huskies were in town (which is hard for a Syracuse and Louisville graduate, but excellence is excellence, and I know it when I see it and it deserves a great fan). This morning, too, local news in Connecticut are running stories about your Me Too essay on the local channels and sharing similar 'admiration' and 'respect' for their "Stewie" - a name that has resonated across the Nutmeg state for a while now. You are synonymous with superstar!
You are a phenomenon.
You are a warrior.
You are a voice.
You are a champion.
You are a hero.
You are a writer.
I am sure you have touched numerous young lives already and will continue to touch even more. Your willingness to take a stand and share your story will be a face of hope for many. Your words will be shared, too, by educators like me.
I write to say, "Thank you." Your strength helps educators to spread strength to so many of students in need of inspiration. I'm sending you a standing ovation today. Your bravery is historical.
I'm even prouder today to be a Northstar. Your blue and green shine has me awe. You have helped others to feel "less alone" and, as your father's advice poignantly stated, "you could save someone's life."
I know that you already have.