When I met Mr. Jim Lemon, I was a sixteen-year-old freshman at Houston's Jackson Junior High and the chances of my finishing high school were slim. I was a troubled teenager with an attitude, living in a
neighborhood that fostered troubled teenagers.
Mr. Lemon taught American history and it was clear from the first day
that his classroom was not going to be disrupted. It was apparent very
quickly that Mr. Lemon was quite different from the other teachers I had known. Not only was he a disciplinarian, but also he was a great teacher. He would never settle for my usual standard of classroom work.
Mr. Lemon pushed and prodded and never tolerated the mediocrity that had become my standard.
On the occasion of our first semester report cards, Mr. Lemon called me
aside and asked how it was possible that I was a B student in his class
and a D and F student in the rest of my classes.
I was ready for that question. I passionately told him about my divorced parents, the local gangs, the drugs, the fights, and the police - all the evils that I had been subjected to. Mr. Lemon listened patiently and when I was through he responded, "There's a problem with your list Mr. Phillips, you are not on it."
Then Mr. Lemon explained that the only person responsible for my
situation was me. And the only person with the potential to change my situation was me, and that when I personally accepted that responsibility I could make a significant change in my life.
He convinced me that I was failing not because I was a failure, but
because I was not accepting the responsibility for my results in those
other classes. Mr. Lemon was the first teacher I had who made me believe in myself. He inspired me to become a better student and he changed my life.
Ten years later, I spoke to him again. I was preparing to graduate from
Chaminade University in Honolulu.
It had taken weeks of telephone calls to find him but I knew what I had to say. When I finally did get Mr. Lemon on the telephone, I explained
what his brutal honesty had meant to me, how I finally graduated from
high school, and how I was a proud staff sergeant in the Army.
I explained how I had married the most beautiful and wonderful woman of my dreams and how we had a beautiful a daughter.
Most of all I wanted him to know that I was about to graduate magna cum laude after going to school for four hours a night, four nights a week for three years. I wanted him to know that I could never have done any of these things if he had not been a part of my life.
Finally, I told him that I had been saving money for two years so that I
could invite he and his wife to come to Hawaii at my expense to be part
of my graduation. I'll never forget his response. Mr. Lemon said, "Who
is this again?"
I was just one of hundreds of students whose life he changed and he seemed genuinely surprised of his impact.
Perhaps none of us realize the impact that we have on other people nor do other people have any idea how much of an impact they have on us. How much, then, should we be aware of our influence on others to make sure that it is for the best? And how much more should we tell those who have had a positive impact on our lives?
Rick Phillips is a motivational speaker and trainer.
Edited by: Lawyer Asad