makeda and me

Smack In The Middle:
One Proud “Mama”

I’ve talked about my two lovely daughters before, but now I’d like to introduce you to one more “daughter,” Makeda, who is a fantastic young lady. She is my daughter who I claim in spirit and I love her, too.

Makeda was one of the students in the best class and the best school year I had ever taught—third period Honors English during the 2008-09 school year. I suspected that I would connect with her because she reminded me a lot of myself as a 12-year-old—a little reserved, a little quiet, and very studious. Lo and behold, before she walked out the door on the very first day, I overheard her tell a friend that she thought she would like my class. And I thought, I’m going to like you.

We became friends to the extent that teachers and students can be friends. Makeda spent lots of time in my classroom helping me with little tasks or working with me on the yearbook. She used these opportunities to talk about her life and I was always impressed with her. She had a life plan and wisdom beyond her years to go with it. We have kept in touch all this time.

Surprising no one, Makeda is a top student. On Sunday, she graduated from Central High School in East Chicago, Indiana. She is ranked number four in a class of 321, finished with a grade point average of 4.2, and is a member of the National Honor Society. She’s headed to Purdue University, where she has a full scholarship waiting for her. I am one proud “mama!”


You know how you experience grand things in life that you know you’ll never forget? I love those times and I live for those times because the joy I feel connected to them is almost unbearably exquisite. You’ve probably felt the same way over events like special birthdays, graduations, marriage, and the birth of your children. The thing I’m coming to terms with is that the older I get, the less I experience such events firsthand. In a way, I get to live these things again with my own children and there is much joy in that, too.

I just had one of these grand experiences with Makeda two weeks ago. She was honored at Central High School’s Distinguished Graduates banquet. The top 20 students of her class got to invite any educator from kindergarten through 12th grade who they felt had an impact on their lives. Makeda chose me. I was—and continue to be—deeply honored and humbled.

As a teacher, you hope to connect with and positively impact students, even if you don’t always see the results. But students most definitely have the ability to impact their teachers, and Makeda is no different. I am inspired by her drive for excellence, her thoughtfulness, her compassion, and her brilliance. Watching Makeda blossom for the last five years has motivated me to seek my own excellence. Reading her status updates always makes me sit back with a smile and feel, I mean I really feel, that the world will be better as long as she’s in it.

Makeda will always win in life because she has a strong foundation. She has a deep faith in God, she is surrounded by a circle of supporters, and her wonderful grandmother has done a first-rate job in raising her. As well as she has done so far, I know the best is yet to come. For her, the sky is not the limit—it is the starting point for all the good she will do. Remember the name Makeda Winfield. I suspect you’ll hear it again.

Related: The GEM Debate: Should THIS Teacher Still Be Teaching?

Have you ever connected with someone who impacted your life? Share your thoughts below.