“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”
“Ms. Waters,” the little girl said.
“Yes, honey,” said the woman, kneeling down in front of her.
“This is the best day ever.”
The sentence that came from the tiny voice struck Grace Waters speechless as she looked into the small child’s eyes and saw a face that reflected hope and innocence, expectation. Six words – six simple words spoken with almost perfect pitch – had magically connected them. Another child had been given a chance; she had learned to read. Suddenly, it became one of the teacher’s best days ever too.
Jesse Grace Waters had been an educator for almost forty years, the last thirty as an elementary school principal. She believed deeply in education, particularly in reading, and considered it to be one of the fundamental keys in shaping young lives; in leading them towards the ideal of becoming productive citizens and parents in their own right. She spent her entire career in Columbus, New Mexico, a town of about nine hundred souls, where a prevailing west wind and hot sunshine are timeless visitors; a place too where Poncho Villa and Mexican children made their way, and mark, across an invisible border.
More passionate than sentimental and more hopeful than cynical, Jesse Grace Waters advocated learning and demanded good teaching in the public schools. She did not waiver from that truth which lived in her heart and in doing so, never intentionally shied away from the hurdles that stood in her path along the way. From a distance, on the slide rule of wealth and celebrity, or however success is measured, some may view this as a simple and ordinary life. Perhaps, but it was also one comprised of challenge, dedication, mastery, and courage; elements that some would argue make it a truly heroic journey, certainly one worthwhile.
“If we do not attend to public education, we will become the ultimate victims,” Grace Waters said, time and again to her various audiences. “Someday – and you can take this to the bank – we will pay the price of failing to educate our children. It may come in the form of violence or economic costs, but eventually we will pay.
“There is no substitute for hope.”