Everybody Is Somebody’s Abby

At the recent Alumni Fest celebrating our school’s 50th year, I saw a lot of former students and colleagues, and a lot of smiles and hugs. One moment though will stick with me for a long time. I ran into Emily, a member of the Class of 1998 and a wonderful, memorable student. She introduced me to her charming little daughters, and then turned to her husband and said, “This is Mr. Anderson, the teacher who said, ‘Everybody is somebody’s Abby.’”

He said, “Oh! I’ve heard that line a few times.”

Flash back. In 1998 I was honored to be elected as one of the graduation brunch speakers. I was also honored to be a new, first-time dad. Our first daughter, Abby, was only a few weeks old at the time I gave that speech.

After talking to Emily at the Alumni Fest, I dug back through files in several old computer formats to find what I’d actually said in that speech. As it turns out, I joked around for several minutes, complimenting and gently roasting some of the students in the audience, then drawing some parallels between the youth culture of 1998 and how things were for me when I graduated from high school in 1976. Then toward the end, I asked the Class of 1998 for a favor:

Now, many of you know I recently became a father. The congratulations and nice messages you’ve given my wife and me have been overwhelming, so thanks for that. This new child–Abby Rose–has made me see a couple of things differently though.

First of all, I don’t want anyone to ever hurt my Abby. And if they do, they’re going to have to deal with me, at least until she can take care of herself.

I don’t want her to ever deal with pain or meanness or unfairness, but I know she will have to eventually.

Here’s a favor I would like to ask of you. Please, as you go out into the world now in this new phase of your life, would you please help me take care of my daughter? I mean, you’ve had role models–some good, some maybe not so good–for your whole life.

Now guess what? When your feet touch the grass on Sunday, after you step off of the stage, you are also expected to be a role model. You’re not a kid any more. You’re a much bigger part of society now, and those of us who try to do the right thing as much as possible could use your help.

I want my daughter to grow up in a society where people do the right thing more often than not, so help me with that, OK?

And let’s take it one step further. Everyone you see and with whom you come into contact is someone’s Abby. And you are each someone’s Abby. So, as you deal with people, please treat them as if they were my child or someone who you care about a lot–even if you don’t know them. Would you do that?

Everybody is somebody’s Abby. Everybody is somebody’s Abby.

Those four words stuck with at least one student for fourteen years, and then she quoted them back to me. For a teacher, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Flash forward. You can do the math. Abby is now fourteen years old and heading off to high school this fall. Although she’s had a few bumps along the way, people have been mostly good to her, and she’s a totally solid, positive-thinking, creative pride and joy. And she knows how to treat and respect other people—like they’re somebody’s Abby.

She learned that from how the world has treated and respected her, and now she will carry it forward. Let’s join her.


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9 Responses to Everybody Is Somebody’s Abby

  1. Beautifully said. I know that it is the philosophy I teach by. Each child is the love of someone’s life & if I can ensure that the parents know how much I love their children, my job is all the easier. And when I see those crazy kids on the street that some are a little fearful of, I just think that’s someone’s child, & I know a smile for them goes a long way in connecting positively. Thanks for these thoughtful words.


  2. Kristy says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. What wonderful words to leave with the class of 98 or any class for that matter. It is also a good reminder. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own lives and issues we need to deal with- even as adults we can forget this little nugget. I appreicate the wisdom and may steal this idea to share when Lil’ Landry gets older.


  3. I need a moment here to regain my composure because I have a lump in my throat and my eyes are welling up. Gary, first of all, I have not doubt that your words have stuck with many, many of your students throughout your career, but those four words so beautifully articulate what loving one’s child is like. It terrifies me to think of any pain that my kids will undoubtedly face while learning their way in the social world, but if just a few more people (and by a few I mean everyone) could take those four words to heart, there would be so much more joy. Thank you for sharing this. Maybe you’ll let me read it as parting words to my seniors next year…and every year after that. Better yet, you should read it at Writers Week.


  4. readingteach says:

    No fair making me cry, friend! I can’t wait to meet Abby Rose in a few weeks. These are beautiful, thoughtful words. I have no doubt you have shared many wise words over the years that have influenced students. When young people come back and share these stories with us, it’s better than any merit pay! Thanks for sharing.


  5. “For a teacher, it doesn’t get much better than that.” Enough said, except I’ll add that far more students than Emily can no doubt say the same about you if they are ever given the chance to run into you again. Keep up the good work for the few years of teaching that remain, and know with certainty that you have changed the world in so many ways — in the classroom, via textbooks, mentoring colleagues, participating at conferences and seminars, and through Writers Week. It was a pleasure to work with you!


  6. Gary,

    Thanks for sharing this story. This is a wonderful message that I am now going to carry with me for a long time. I know you have left (and continue to leave) an impression on everyone in your classes, in the department, and in the school. As my daughter continues to grow up, it eases my mind a bit that there are advice-givers like you out there looking out for everyone else.


  7. Tony Romano says:

    I can’t think of a more important message with which to leave students as they step out into what is sometimes a colder world. I can hear your measured, assured delivery and imagine students nodding and reflecting. Quite a gift you left them. And to know that the gift was received so well has to be especially satisfying. Thanks for the perspective and the reminder, which we all need to hear again and again. (You know how some speeches go viral. I vote for this one. Wouldn’t that be cool for that to happen now, when the speech was delivered before anyone had heard of viral?)


  8. Grading Girl says:

    WOW, Gary, I wish I would have read this when you first posted and I’m sorry that I didn’t!! These words ring so true in my ears, both as a parent and an educator. With this speech that you shared in 1998, and now during Writers Week, you are communicating so eloquently and succinctly what is most important in life. The students at Fremd are more than lucky to hear your words and have you touch their lives. Thank you so much for sharing!!


  9. Pingback: Writers Week 19 (#ww19) | AmyLovesYA.com

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