Among the many speeches extolling retiring principal John Dodig at a PTA ceremony this morning at Staples, some of the best came from students.
Current junior Jaime Bairaktaris began by talking about moving from Redding to Westport in December of 8th grade — then, a few months later, having to adjust to a new, big high school. He dreaded the 1st day:
I got off my bus, after sitting next to some senior that I swore had to have been 25 years old (full beard, at least 7 feet tall, music blaring), and walked up to the brick building with blue windows.
Coming through a new door is a challenge for anybody. Who knows what’s on the other side? We, as a species, are afraid of the different, cautious of the unknown, proficient at avoiding vulnerability.
But on that other side was a man, smartly dressed and smiling, welcoming me to my first day of high school. He wore a name tag that read “Dodig” (which I pronounced “doddig” for quite some time).
Then Jaime asked the audience to do a little exercise.
We’ll only work 17 muscles, but they’re the most important muscles in our body. I need you all to smile — teeth showing and all.
It’ll be 4 years ago this September, but I still remember that he was smiling when I walked through those front doors. A smile is such a simple gesture — remember, just 17 muscles — yet so many people seem to underestimate the power of those muscles.
I’m now a rising senior, jaded in my ways, and well on my way to college. In these three years I’ve learned a lot. But most importantly I can now determine who’s a good person to keep around in life, and who isn’t.
Mr. Dodig was there to help in those times when I found those choice few who maybe weren’t keepers, but he didn’t treat them as typical troublemakers. Mr. Dodig treated those students as teenagers who were bound to make mistakes, just like we all are. He guided them to make better choices, and now I speak with some of those same kids on a daily basis.
Throughout my life I will learn many things. Some I’ll take with me; some I will not. The most important lessons I’ve learned from Mr. Dodig are ones that will aid me throughout my life, and should be life lessons for all of us here today.
If I will remember anything from my time here, let it be the importance and immense power that a single smile can have on somebody’s day, and how to accept and forgive others even in a world where that may not be the easiest or most popular choice to make.
So Mr. Dodig, I thank you for making a difference in my life and the lives of countless others throughout your 11 years here at Staples High School. I hope as you look back on your days at Staples, thinking about all of the students you’ve watched pass through that front lobby in the morning, and about everybody you’ve been able to help over the years, that you can smile just as much as you’ve made us smile.