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.