And now for something completely different…
I found out last week that my mentor, teacher, and friend Joan Bedinger passed away. Joan was my high school drama teacher from 1982-1986 and my friend and mentor after that. While we drifted apart over the years, Joan was never far from my thoughts. So, how does this fit into my blog about bullying?
High School ended the period of my life where I was picked on. But after years and years of it, I had developed a stand-offish personality. My sister had joined the drama group in high school and I was introduced to Joan when I was in 8th grade by my sister. She could not stop talking about her and how great she was.
One day, after school I walked from the Middle School to the High School. I went in to the drama classroom and Joan, or Ms. B as she was better known during those day, immediately greated me and said that my sister had told her all about me. She made me feel special and welcome. She asked me if I was going to take drama next year. Before that “moment” I hadn’t thought about it. But after the visit, I decided to sign up.
The next year I started drama. I knew very quickly I had found my group. I don’t want to say they were like me. Certainly there were some shared traits. We didn’t talk about whether we had all gotten picked on. It wasn’t like that. It was more about the fact that, this group accepted all who came to them. There was no popularity contest. There was no bullying in the group. You could be who you wanted to be.
But, better than that, there was Ms. B, who treated 14-18 year old teens like adults. Who gave us opportunities to excel and encouragement to do more than we thought possible. I saw this person take people who were shy, and turn them into extroverts on stage. I saw her put teams of drama people together and create fast friendships with memories and “moments” that last a lifetime. I saw her take the young man I was, and make him forget about his bully days. Make him believe that he could be liked, he could be successful, that he was talented, and that he could do anything he wants. She made me who I am through her teaching, mentoring, and friendship. I wouldn’t be in the career I am today in video and media. I wouldn’t be a confident person without her mentorship.
At age 14 I was building sets for “You Can’t Take It With You”. Then at 15, I was starring in “The Wiz” as a character she allowed me to make up. She directed me, but trusted me 100% and asked me to take chances. When I was 17, she asked me to be the assistant director to her for Mame. When Ms. B asked you to be the assistant director, she was really asking you to be the director. I recall those days clearly, sitting next to Ms. B and learning about how to lead a team to success. How to make people feel confident when they doubted themselves. How to make people forget about bad times and escape into the acting world and use their past “moments” to bring up their feelings through acting.
At the end of that production, Joan gave me a gift. She gave me a silver cup with the inscription that said “My Right Hand”. There is nothing I have received over the years that has affected me more than that cup and those words. I don’t think to this day, Joan Bedinger knew the full impact she had on the lives of those who were students under her. She changed many lives and certainly took me away from those days of bullying and brought me into what my life could become.
Even though I hadn’t seen Joan in almost 10 years, she was never far from my thoughts. Two days before her passing I was talking to my mother about wanting to visit her. Two days before. My mom actually called me to tell her she saw the obit in the paper and that it was ironic that it was two days prior that I was talking about Joan. 22 years after my high school graduation and I still talk about Joan. I told my kids about her passing. I told them that one of my wishes for them is that they are lucky enough to have a teacher that is their mentor and friend as well. I think out of all the things I wish for them right now, that is one of the most important to me.
The “moments” that Joan Bedinger gave me in my life will always be near the front of my mind as I continue forward with this life that she helped me mold.
Joan Bedinger ( 1939-2008 )