Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

A Student’s Success (Los Altos TOWN CRIER, March 2014)

I was watching a PBS documentary on the Old West – you know the type.  Lots of historic photographs, lots of historic documents, and some expert talking heads explaining it all with their names and credentials briefly headlined.

Suddenly I shouted in amazement.  An unusual name, familiar from my remote past, had flashed ont he screen.  Through the changes years had made I saw a familiar smile. “I know that guy!”

A quick Google search on the name turned up additional photographs confirming my recognition, an impressive list of awards for academic and journalistic excellence, and an email contact.  I fired off an email:

Subject: Wow!  My former student is a PBS pundit!

I was watching the PBS show on Butch Cassidy and saw you as a historical authority. There could not be two Ken Verdoia’s in the world!  And you look like yourself, only in 1967 you had no need to shave. I am so excited that my star 9th grade student in my student teaching year at MVHS has risen to eminence!

Maybe you remember me as the insecure Stanford intern who wore a fake hairpiece to make myself look older and taller.  I remember you in the freshman talent show lip-synching as Harvey Johnson looking for a prom date,

I’m  living in Los Altos and doing some writing for the local paper and my own entertainment. I see you are affiliated with the U of Utah (my parents’ alma mater, as it happens) I am so delighted to see what you have become!

Best of lives,

Allyson Johnson (formerly known to you as Miss Young)

The next morning I had this response in my inbox”

Allyson:

Through forty years in journalism, nearly thirty of those contributing to PBS, I have received many, many messages after a report or program. None as surprising and delightful as yours waiting for me this morning.

I am quite stunned that you would remember a student in such a manner. Particularly one so closely resembling wallpaper. But, yes, you do accurately cite the mime-like 14 year olds pushing their way through “Bye Bye Birdie” at Mountain View High School!

How wonderful for me…and what a thoughtful, inclusive gesture by you. Your memory is a generous gift that has started this day on a particularly happy note.

Next time you gather with friends, I hope you share this recollection. And, then, confidently inform them it was your insightful tutelage that launched a career!

All my very best wishes,
Ken Verdoia

In a later exchange of emails, Ken told me, “Every step along the way… elementary school, middle school, high school, undergraduate and graduate studies… there has been a kind and generous mentor who has made a difference.  Not ‘steering’ me, but demonstrating how courage, strength and ability are born of purposeful education.”

Since I was a girl I had always planned to be a teacher, but in the end I only taught high school English for seven years.  Teaching is a hard job, and I was not particularly gifted.  Still, I feel honoree to think that my blundering enthusiasm for good reading and good writing all those years ago might have earned me a small place among those who “made a difference.”

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