Monday, February 2, 2015

with breanna in mind

We are all connected.  Last year Melissa Steller brought U2's Terry Lawless to class.  It turns out Terry is friends with Bill Peterson, the former president of the musicians' union and a brilliant trumpeter who played with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, John Williams and many others.  Bill's son Eric was my best friend growing up, from the time we met in the third grade until the day Eric died in the summer after our senior year of high school.

Melissa was also Breanna's and Haley's advisor on the Yosemite trip they recently announced.  Last year Melissa organized a trip that Nature Bridge (formerly known as the Yosemite Institute, the oldest education organization in Yosemite Valley) called "the most amazing student experience we've ever had."  Breanna and Haley were planning to top it.

I am sorry to announce that we lost Breanna over the weekend as the result of a car accident Friday night.  Many of you connected in person or via social media this weekend, and I'm grateful for the character you have shown in celebrating Breanna's life and comforting her family.

These are moments that make everything else both totally insignificant and somehow more important.  When Eric died I remember feeling that all at once nothing else seemed to matter-- not my college plans, not my job, and certainly not the stupid argument he and I had just had over a concert ticket.  At the same time, Eric's death gave my life a more important meaning; I wasn't going to take anything for granted or miss a single opportunity, because I was the one with the chance--with the obligation-- to make good on the promises we made ourselves and each other.  I have kept him and that feeling close ever since.  Eric was with me when I became a UCLA Bruin, when I bicycled the Col du Tourmalet, when I got married, when I became a father, and when I did a thousand other things that he and I imagined when we were your age.  This may or may not seem strange to you, but thinking about Eric often guides my decisions.  Saturday morning when Nik Koyama asked me if he could have Breanna's desk, it may as well have been Eric who said, "If you can find someone with keys on campus, come and get it."

In education we often talk about differentiation, i.e., making a concept or a skill accessible to learners with a wide range of experiences, abilities, and learning styles.  It's a good idea that's difficult to implement with 35 people in 50 minutes.  Part of the reason I started Open Source Learning was to help learners understand themselves well enough to adapt information to their needs.  As it is with learning, so it is with grieving.  Each of you are unique people with unique connections to Breanna and the people who love her.  There is no one right way to experience this moment.  Some will need to talk, some will need the show to go on, some will need to hug and cry and remember the good and maybe even make sure the earth isn't giving way under their feet.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I started typing this twice and gave up because I couldn't see through the tears.

Today's agenda is open.  We will do what we need to do, and that may differ from period to period or person to person.  I spoke with Mr. Blanco yesterday afternoon and there are counselors available to help those in need.  If you'd rather hang out with people you know, we're here for you.  And if you'd rather take the planned lit terms quiz, we can do that too.  The important thing is to remember, and connect, and make today your masterpiece.  I am grateful for the short time I got to work with Breanna, and I am grateful for the day I get to spend with you.  Thanks for reading.  DP

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