Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Teachers, Prayers, and Art 

By Skip Hellewell

It may be America’s favorite poem, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” about a wanderer confronted by a decision when “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” It’s a tricky poem, maybe a tribute to American individualism on that road “less traveled,” or perhaps a nod to roads unknown. I was there this week, caught between two intriguing column topics: May 2 was National Teacher Appreciation Day, but May 4 was National Day of Prayer. Unlike Frost’s wanderer, we can travel both.  

Last Sunday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its tenth annual Crystal Apple program honoring teachers from four local high schools. Students nominated and voted for their two favorite teachers at each school, and the eight teachers were honored at the program with a crystal apple. Chuck Henry, former Channel 4 anchor, was the host, but the night was really about the students, who wore their school colors, and the teachers who inspired them.  

The honorees from Laguna Beach High School were: John Shanahan, coach of the school’s first CIF football championship team in 76 years, introduced by Ryner Swanson, tight end, and Meghan Minguez-Marshall (known as triple-M), English and drama teacher, presented by student Brooke Lattin. The teachers then responded with a brief speech. Two things stood out from the night. The first was how the teachers built caring relationships; the affection of the nominating student for the teacher was obvious, and the applause from the audience, mostly students, was energetic. The second notable was when the teachers spoke. They usually wound up talking about a teacher who had inspired them many years ago.  

The genius of the program was it thanked teachers in the moment of their caring. Who doesn’t have a short list of teachers who made a positive difference in their lives? We may not properly thank them in the moment, but their memory is always with us.  

Which brings us to the National Day of Prayer, an invitation by Congress “to turn to God in prayer and meditation.” Celebrated the first Thursday of May, it recognizes the instinct to connect with a higher power that is hard-wired within us. Mankind has always prayed, accepting that the answer may not be the one we sought or even come in the time we wanted. Have you looked back years later and realized prayers answered in unexpected but better ways? Sometimes it all aligns: In 1623, the Pilgrims had a day of prayer and fasting for rain to save their parched crops—it rained that evening. We have always been a praying nation.   

The Laguna Interfaith Council, our union of churches and caring organizations, annually celebrates the National Day of Prayer. Their program this week recognized the Laguna Art Museum (LAM) for its outreach to children. This takes many forms, including the School Art Program with local schools linked to LAM exhibitions, the Family Art Night with the Boys & Girls Club, Storytime Saturday each fourth Saturday of the month, Kids Night Out (a night of activities for kids while the parents enjoy a night out), the LAB at LAM, a special space for kids to enjoy and learn about art, the School Tour Program, the SchoolPower After School Program, and the LAM Summer Camp.  

In addition to all this, LAM has received a California grant under the Federal Title 1 program to teach the language of art to students in under-served communities by developing a curriculum to fit the needs of participating school districts. Who knew LAM did so much for children? There’s meaning in that.  

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected].

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