I used to eat lunch sitting in the freshman commons my first year of high school. Not many people talked to me. In fact, only two notable people talked to me that year. These are two people that helped turn my life into something meaningful.
The first person was Charlie Rogers. Charlie was the starting quarterback for the school football team, and he had the whole school in the palm of his hand. He was an All-State football player and the Pride of West High. He didn’t have to talk to me, but he did, and that made all the difference.
Every morning he would be the first person to greet me as I walked through the doors of school. We never had conversations that went past pleasantries, but that year I learned what a true champion is. Here was a kid who had every right to just blow me off. Here was a kid who had colleges drooling over him. Here was a kid who could sweet talk any girl in the school into dating him. He seemingly had everything, and he made me feel welcome at West.
Charlie is now at Iowa State University where he plays cornerback instead of quarterback. He showed me that no matter how big you are or think you are, you should never forget about the people at the bottom working their way through every day.
The second notable person to speak to me that year was Mr. Walden. Walden wasn’t a teacher per say, he was the proud caretaker of the school library. West’s library is the second biggest library in town, a fact of which Walden was never afraid to remind people. More than a librarian, Walden was also a cancer survivor. He battled throat cancer for a chunk of time that left his once athletic body frail and aged, and his voice permanently destroyed by its effects.
On the first day of high school I wandered into the library after school to check out its famous collection, and being a classic high school nerd, I was carrying around my unwieldy violin case. As I was perusing the history aisle I felt a tap on my shoulder and immediately wheeled around. I saw a beaming elderly man looking right back at me. He pointed at my violin and asked me what I played. The rest is history. From then on I came in every day after school and most days before school, not so much to read or check out books, but to talk to him.
Some weeks we would discuss school dances. When it was election season we focused on politics. Sometimes it was sports. The whole world was a target of our discussions. I could talk to him about anything and he would always give me advice that helped. More times than I care to count he saved me from hurting myself or doing something stupid. I learned lots from Walden. See, he wasn’t just a cancer survivor — amazing in itself — but he was also a track coach. He coached jumps for West High Track, which has a tradition of excellent jumpers. Walden coached me into the track athlete I am now.
Coach Walden catalyzed the start of westhighbros more than any other adult except maybe my parents. He was the first adult who I told about westhighbros. Every time an interview of mine would be on TV he would turn all the televisions in the library to the correct channel, which often meant an overcrowded library. Coach Walden was the first adult that I chose to trust. He was the man who taught me that there is good in everyone, even in the “bad” people.
Parents are sort of obligated to tell their kids that everyone deserves to be happy, but I feel that he was the first person who told me this even though he didn’t have to. This year will be Walden’s last. He’s moving to a ranch out in Montana, so if any of my readers from Montana see an elderly man with an irresistible toothy smile named Jim Walden, please send him my best regards.