We had set out before 5:00 to get to the campus of Milton Academy to hear a talk by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who in 1971 first came to this elite boarding school from the projects on Chicago’s South Side. He was a scholar with A Better Chance, the unique-in-the-country program that, since its founding, has helped more than 1400 students of color graduate from some 300 of the country’s most rigorous public and private schools and go on to careers in medicine, the law, government, you name it. (Read more about it here.)
When I say ‘we’ I’m referring to the seven scholars in my own town’s ABC program, who live together in a cozy old house to which they came the summer before their 9th grade year.
We had left for the event before 5:00 but now here it was almost 7:00 when ABC Executive Director Sandra Timmons stood to tell the crowd that foul weather had grounded the Governor’s plane in New York.
Well, we could believe that; even here in New England, dark clouds boiled and spit and winds were gusting up to 40 miles per hour.
She said we shouldn’t worry though because, upon learning that his flight has been scrubbed, the Governor had started to drive, a four-hour journey under the best of circumstances.
After some short remarks about the program, she said, “ Enjoy these wonderful appetizers!” “And… have fun networking!”
“Have FUN? Networking?” I’ll bet many were thinking. But in the end it was fun, in part because when you’re waiting, you can relax. You’re where you’re supposed to be so for once you can let time spool, and enjoy the exchanges that come your way.
One nice exchange I had occurred when I went to wash up from the buttery heaven of the appetizers and was greeted by a woman just drying her hands.
“Welcome to the Ladies Room!” she cried and before we knew it we were talking passionately about the role of public education. Later, in that basement hallway, a gentleman and I laughed at the sight of a little brown lizard executing his calisthenics as he inched up the wall, blown up north, we joked, on this tide of southerly rain. And shortly after that, I stood at the beverage table where a third person and I noticed a bowl of greenery that appeared to be offering itself to one and all. We were examining it with interest when, in the nick of time, we saw a fork plunged in its pretty midst.
“This is somebody’s salad!” we both yelled simultaneously, and just barely missed committing the faux pas of trying to make off with that guy’s supper.
A stir arose near the back of the hall and suddenly the Governor was bounding to the front of the hall.
“Can you hear me without this? “ he asked, indicating the microphone.
“Yes!” everyone called back.
Then he spoke simply, his hands clasped before him, about the lessons he has learned along the way.
He said he now sees that his grandmother was right to say the prestige of having been admitted to Harvard meant less to her than opportunities her grandson would have there. He said you need to really peel back the surface layers of a thing to find its true meaning. Do that, he advised all of us. He said that when a young person asks something of you, you should try to say yes, and then stay faithful to that promise.
He had stayed faithful, in fighting his way across the miles to see us.
We had too, in waiting for him.
And if we had some smiles along the way, why all the better.
(Sometimes it’s good to have your schedule changed or to be blown a bit off course… )
especially when your wait is really worth it (Gamaral Sawyer with Governor Patrick in his office)