The Because Project asks Vermonters to share their stories about people and experiences that have shaped their lives, especially during their formative years — stories that may inspire others to get involved. Because together we can all make a difference.
I grew up in Burlington and was pretty happy going into the seventh grade, but I lacked self-confidence. I was a heavy kid and hated the gym. I wasn't very coordinated and was worried I was going to be picked last, because that was my previous experience.
Ray Hadley was my physical education teacher that year. He was well known in this area — as a teacher, builder and business owner. Mr. Hadley made me feel as special as anybody else. He was fair, expected respectful behaviors and used positive words of encouragement.
It was not, "You didn't do this," or "You didn't do that." Instead he would comment, "Hey, I liked how you did this. Nice job on that." Obviously, it was at my level, but he saw improvement, and as a result, I started to say, "You know, he's right." It made me feel better about myself.
It was during this influential time in my life that he believed in me and empowered me to believe in myself. I thought, I can do it, I can get healthier, I can get better in music if I practice more, and I can do better in school if I work harder.
Obviously, I had other people around me who contributed to that, particularly my parents, but I felt Mr. Hadley made a special effort for me.
I'm sad to say I never told him all of this. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago of ALS. I tell our students and teachers here that it's important to share your story with people who have been influential in your life.
What students experience in school can be profound when we recognize the power we have as educators. Sometimes it can be just one instance that is important to students. You never know when they might really be ready for someone to reach out. That's my desire: to help people understand the power of this relationship.David Young is the superintendent of schools in South Burlington.