The Panthers of Prestige banquet hosted by the Lufkin ISD Education Foundation was always the culmination of the school year to honor the top 20 students and their educators of influence. The students would enjoy a good meal with their family and teachers, read a letter on stage to their chosen educator, and be congratulated by the community and local businesses.
This year was very different. In years past, the students would surprise their educators of influence with balloons, hugs, treats and treasures. This year, students surprised their teachers with Zoom meetings, Card My Yard and pizza delivery.
Even though they could not celebrate in person, each of these educators made an enormous impact on the lives of these students as evident by this letter written from Alex Hill to his eighth-grade GT Language Arts teacher, Savanna Tutt. Since Alex was not able to read it to her personally at the banquet, I wanted to print it here:
Dear Mrs. Tutt,
I still remember the first day of eighth grade. I was as bitter at the world as any adolescent, ranting and raving and reckless with emotion. But you must have seen something I couldn’t. That day, you pushed through that bitterness when you told me that I reminded you of Atticus Finch from ‘‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’’ I didn’t really know what that meant or who that was then, and the photo of Gregory Peck on the wall that I mistook for Charlie Sheen didn’t do much to help. Regardless, you powered through my ignorance by having me read ‘‘To Kill a Mockingbird’’ that year, but, still, I remained confused. I didn’t see how I could be anything like this man: thoughtful, honorable, respectful, honest, yet I still embraced the new nickname as it sounded really cool.
Your words and that interaction still stick with me. I think every day about who I have been and who I have become, and I imagine my template has been Atticus Finch. You saw those characteristics within me that I didn’t even know were there. You knew me better than I knew myself on that first day alone. I was broken then. I couldn’t see it, but it was true. You mended me together, rebuilt my confidence, and showed me that I had value.
I thought myself a good writer once before eighth grade, but I had long since lost that thought. You saw my ability, though, and cultivated it, and taught me to cultivate it. You believed in my ability to put my thoughts on paper, to change the world with my vocabulary. I never feel freer now than when writing. It’s when I’m most honest with myself and simultaneously most congratulatory of myself. I owe the lion’s share of that security in my ability to you.
This letter was only supposed to be 100 words, but now I realize that 100 words are not enough to express what you have done for me; nor are a thousand, or hundred thousand, or million. You took away my limit long ago and gave me the ability to express my thoughts infinitely. I only now wish that this letter could be infinite. Then might it begin to show my gratitude.
Thank you for publishing me. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for seeing potential in me that I couldn’t see. Thank you for moving me from a place of self-loathing and repressed emotion. Thank you for teaching me that my thoughts matter and need to be heard. Thank you for setting my standards. Thank you for making me Atticus and changing my life.
This is what it’s all about — teachers influencing the world, one student at a time.
The Panthers of Prestige “reveal” video will be released soon to show teachers being surprised by the top 20 students. Log on to the foundation’s website at lufkineducationfoundation.org.
The Education Foundation provides teachers with grants for innovative ideas that benefit students in the classroom. Community donations are an integral part of the foundation. Consider supporting this outstanding organization for our teachers and ultimately our students. The Education Foundation is just one of the many reasons why so many in our community Choose Lufkin.
Lufkin ISD Superintendent