by Naomi Shihab Nye
The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.
The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.
This has recently become one of my favorite poems because it leads me to pause and think about the many students who have entered my life over the past two decades, and the countless ways in which each promising youth has made themselves famous in my eyes. I am using the word famous in a figurative sense, and yet I think this is the perfect word choice. From the moment we enter the world as newborns, there is a desire to be famous or known in someone’s eyes. The infant trusts that she will be known by her caregiver whenever she needs love, food, or comfort. The toddler wants to be famous enough to be picked up and assisted when he falls down and scrapes his knee. The teenager wants her parents to know that when she begins wearing striped skirts with brightly colored, polka dot socks and plaid shirts, she is moving into a new phase of independence that will require patience, acceptance, and understanding. Each of these children wants to be known as a unique human being in the eyes of others who is loved.
As an undergraduate student who often worked as a caregiver of young children, I will never forget one of the families of whom I became quite fond. They had two young sons, the oldest son being around 5 years old at the time and a huge fan of Superman. He held such admiration for this superhero that he chose to wear a red cape, complete with superman boots and the signature underwear over his jeans, to complete the look—seven days a week. The messages this sweet boy was sending to anyone paying attention was clear: I am strong and mighty; I am helpful; I am unique; and I will save the day! Fast forward almost two decades later, and he IS saving the day! A graduate of Duke University with a double major in civil environmental engineering and public policy, he is the founder and CEO of an asset management company focused on investing in sustainable energy companies and has raised over 3 million dollars in equity. I often look back on those years and my heart smiles. I think about the number of people who embraced this child’s fame, supported his dreams, accepted him for his unique desires (cape, boots, and underwear included), and allowed him to shine. My hope and dream for our children is that they can be “known” in their lives just like this young superhero.
At Beauvoir, our students are quite fortunate to be surrounded by teachers, staff, administrators, families, and other caregivers who understand the importance of being known and recognized. It is a hallmark of our institution. The inclusive beliefs we hold for each other allow us to carry out our Mission of “providing an extraordinary early childhood education in a diverse community that values every individual.” Our faculty and staff spent some meaningful time during orientation week diving into our summer reading, The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias. We engaged in exercises around the concept of “headwinds and tailwinds,” the invisible winds that either aid or challenge individuals from moving forward in life and help us understand systemic bias. We also discussed “cultural smog,” the invisible biases that are learned from the moment we are born and create unconscious categories and shortcuts that become imprinted in our brains, regardless of our conscious beliefs. As we considered how headwinds, tailwinds, and cultural smog can impact any community of people working together, it also reinforced our Beauvoir commitment to ensuring that we continue to be mindful of our mission to make certain that everyone knows that they are a unique thread of the Beauvoir quilt. Each of our stories, our identities, our strengths, our opinions, our hopes, and our dreams are important, and we should want to know more about them.
On behalf of the Beauvoir Faculty and Staff, I want to thank you for a terrific and welcoming start to the new school year, and we look forward to getting to know each of you better!
Cindi Gibbs-Wilborn, Head of School