by George J Elbaum
On arrival at Banning High School we were met by Gabriela Narez, Banning’s GATE/AP Coordinator, who led us to the auditorium where I would speak. My first surprise was its large size, so I asked how many students are enrolled at Banning, and the answer was 3200, so much larger than any school where I’ve spoken so far. As students began filing in, I met and chatted with teachers Adela Retana, Elia Garcia and Gloria Dyson. About 10 min. later the auditorium was about 3/4 full (with 325 students, I’m told), and I launched into my presentation, having shortened it to about 35 min. to allow time for Q&A. However, I obviously didn’t time it well because I was still 5 min. from finishing when the bell rang. Thus there was neither time to finish nor for Q&A, which I deeply regret because it’s the students’ questions that reflect their reaction to and understanding of my story, and also allow me to add what I may have omitted unintentionally. Still, the next day a number of students emailed me commenting on my talk and asking how they could get my book, so I felt gratified by that reaction. This presentation was arranged for me by Janis Davis, a long-time friend who is currently the Coordinator, Ceremonies & Events, at CSU Dominguez Hills.
PS: Excerpts from several students’ letters that especially resonated with me are below.
- I myself had a rocky childhood, and after hearing your story I gained strength and inspiration that will keep me going, so your words won’t be forgotten.
- Your story made me realize that I have nothing to complain about, none of us do. We are all very fortunate to be living the lives that we have, so we should be really appreciative for that.
- You inspired me to overcome life’s difficult situations. I was lucky to witness a survivor with my own eyes and thank you for visiting our school; it was an honor.
- I know that to remember sad things about our lives is more difficult than we think. However, I know that life can only be understood by looking back, but at the same time it can only be lived by looking forward.
- At times, your story made me feel emotional, just imagining what you went through. I also noticed that you would get emotional at times and understandably would take a pause. It showed how difficult these memories really were for you.
- You made me appreciate life.