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During a discussion last week with a small group of teachers experiencing “the growing pains” of being new to the profession, the topic of role models for young people was injected into our agenda (or perhaps, more accurately, the lack of positive and respected role models). The growing pains of the new teachers are not dissimilar to those of young people as they seek nurturing, support and mentoring.

Following that discussion, I read of the death of a truly great humanitarian and college president, James Oliver Freedman of Dartmouth College. Mr. Freedman’s legacy, in addition to all the excellent and progressive programs he created at Dartmouth, was driven by being a moral example to all and a belief that “the purpose of life was to make a difference — to create a better version of the life and world around us.” Being a shining example to others is a means to that end.

One of the quotes attributed to President Freedman underscored the conclusion of the aforementioned new teachers’ group discussion, that our kids sadly lack truly inspirational and moral role-modeling in the society they know and relate to.

“Students are not so much indifferent to idealism as uninspired by their elders,” Freedman said. “Not so much misled in their values as left to flounder on their own.”

Major culprits in spotlighting our lack of inspirational role modes are the tabloids and other news media. How can we splash the faces of mobster Kevin Weeks and the arrogant, self-absorbed drug abuse suspect Barry Bonds across our TV screens and newspapers when there are so many others in our world deserving recognition for “creating a better version of life” by good example? Dana Reeves’ short but fulfilling life as a gracious, dignified, courageous caregiver to her husband, Christopher Reeves, deserved more than a passing nod.

Jack Williams, the TV news anchorman, touches my heart every week with his relentless and generous labor for the Wednesday’s Child adoption program. He’s a true hero and a page one or “60 Minutes” headliner.

The six-day odyssey in early March of 38 University of Minnesota spring-break students merited major news coverage. Instead of rollicking in the warm sands of Panama Beach, these college kids visited six cities in six days to volunteer with food banks, homeless shelters and community action projects.

Or how could the death of Eli Segal go virtually unnoticed? Or, more pointedly, how could he pass through his 63 years of life so unheralded? Don’t know who he was? That’s your homework assignment for today.

In an attempt to acknowledge some of our locals who do make a difference and serve as notable role models for young people, we will periodically issue the Report Card A+ in this space to thank them.

About four weeks ago at the Shirley Middle School, glancing out the front entrance, I noticed Ruth Shea coming into the school and assumed she was paying someone a visit or delivering a message — not unusual, as she is such an active community person. A few moments later, however, Ruth stopped me in the hallway, re-introduced herself to me (it having some time since I’d seen her last) and introduced me also to Cledia, a middle-school student who began the school year speaking only Portuguese.

Ruth told me how, as a school volunteer, she met Cledia in September. Though sharing no common language, they have met each other at 8 a.m. every morning (often after school, too) to ease Cledia’s transition to American public school education. Having talked to Cledia and her teachers and observed her performance, this writer can attest to the remarkable progress and success of this young lady.

Ruth Shea said to me, “What a great way to start the day — to be met with Cledia’s smiling face and to admire her driving ambitions.”

Ruth, imagine how Cledia feels — to be met by you and your smiling face; to have a role model in her life who equates being a senior citizen with an opportunity to call on experience “to create a better version of life around us.” James Oliver Freedman is smiling down on you. You deserve our A+ for who you are and your support for Cledia.

“A sense of love and caring make no barrier impenetrable.” TC

(We welcome other nominees for A+ recognition.)