In every school, there are teachers who inspire us long after we have graduated. When we were seniors, in that final flurry of classes, exams, proms and graduation, we didn't think too hard about them.
They were our social studies teachers, our math teachers, our French teachers, our coaches. They were fixtures in our lives and we were ready to move on. It was only later that we discovered some of their lessons went far beyond the classroom.
Mildred Almond was one such teacher. She taught social studies, public speaking, economics and drama at Middleton High School for 21 years. But for many, she also was an example of how to live your life. She was someone who never took no for an answer, who didn't listen to excuses, who demanded the best of everyone in her classrooms and who helped those who were struggling, whether she taught them or not.
She taught history, and made it relevant to what was happening in the world. She taught public speaking, and was patient enough to wait until a nervous student got up the courage to start their prepared remarks.
And she was honest about the results, saying "You can do better next time" with a stern look and then a smile.
She passed away on Christmas Day at age 77 after a short illness. It's hard to think of the world without her. She was a tireless member of Cherokee Place United Methodist Church, and was a volunteer at the Naval Weapons Station pharmacy.
After she retired, she became a driving force in the Charleston County Retired Educators' Association. They had their February meeting at the church, one that Mildred had already planned. It turned into a celebration of her life.
The Culinary Arts students from the Garrett Academy of Technology came up with the menu, and then served it to the filled fellowship hall.
Then the chorus from the School of the Arts filed in to sing.
Mildred was a big supporter of the school's singers after she retired. And she would have been so proud of them. Robin Rogers directed them in a favorite from "A Chorus Line" that described Mildred perfectly:
"One singular sensation
Every little step she takes
One thrilling combination
Every move that she makes
One smile and suddenly nobody else will do
You know you'll never be lonely with you know who ..."
To end the program, Sabrina McIntyre, a senior this year, and former Middleton High School 1982 graduate Ann Marie Spearman Fairchild sang "The Prayer," an operatic duet, that made hearts in the room soar.
In his introduction, Rogers repeated what a friend had said of Mildred at her passing: "God needs a break so Mildred can be in charge for awhile."
I had to laugh when I heard that because it was so true. Mildred also never minced words and she taught all of us important skills, like how to form a clear idea, and how to project a voice so a large crowd can hear and how to research details on a story until it is accurate.
Every person that day had a special Mildred Almond story to tell, so I'm passing on one of my own.
Years after I graduated from college, I started writing for The Post and Courier. A few months later, I ran into Mildred again, and couldn't resist asking what she thought of my writing.
She was as straightforward as ever, and her response was typical "It will get better. Just keep on writing."
So for all the teachers out there who have moments when they pull their hair out over students, remember that some of the best lessons are the ones you are teaching about how to live life.