Here’s the full text of the remarks I made at retirement dinner given for me by the Golden Knights Music Parents Association on June 3, 2013:
Thank you, everyone, so much for your generous and kind words.
Please honker down and find a comfortable spot in your chair. I have a lot of people to thank and things to say, and I’m not going to hold back. So “Buckle your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
A few years ago, I realized that I was not only pushing 31 years in this profession, but that I was also seen as one of the “old timers.” It was a shock, but I guess it was bound to happen. After all, this is the only job I’ve ever had in education.
In 1981, I was a newly graduated alumnus of Northwestern University, with high hopes and no job. August came, and I decided I had to make ends meet, and the only way I knew how was as a waiter. I found a job around the corner from where I lived in Chicago at the Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel, and the experiences there as a waiter, Maitre D’ and manager taught me skills that turned out to be critical as a teacher. I took over 2 dozen interviews that year, but no one offered me a job. I finally heard about this job at NVOT a year later. I applied, interviewed, was offered the job. Although it delayed my start as a music educator for a year, I wouldn’t give up that experience at the Pump Room for all the coffee at Starbucks. After my first year of teaching at NVOT, during the summer of ’83, Mr. Paynter called me from Northwestern, and told me about a band director job opening in the Northshore area of Chicago. “If you want this job, I can make sure you get it,” he said. I didn’t drop a beat when I told him, “Thank you, but I think I’ve found my home here.”
So much as changed since my freshman year on the NVOT faculty. When I started in 1982, students lined up at the pay phones after band rehearsals to get rides home. There was no extended F corridor, no South Gym, or no elevator. There was no Tech Team, no George Harris. John Howarth was Superintendent, George Garbaccio was Principal, and Dean Simpson, who hired me, was the Music Chairman. Dean was omnipotent; I never met the superintendent or principal until after I started. MTV was just starting to broadcast, and the channel actually played music videos. We bought LP’s at Tower Records and marveled at the Trade Center Twin Towers that dominated the New York skyline. We paid $1.25 for a faculty lunch in the cafeteria, Bi-State Plaza was half the size it is now, and there was no CVS or Dairy Queen in sight.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned since I started is that change is the norm. There’s simply no fighting it. In 1983, one of Dean Simpson’s final words of advice to me were “Learn as much as you can about computers; they are going to change the world.” And change it they did. Northern Valley is now a meca for technology. The Northern Valley faculty now uses technology to take attendance, record grades, chart marching band drills and post marching band parts, sell All-School Musical tickets, communicate with parents, argue with parents, read shocking comments from students on RateMyTeacher.com, log what you didn’t do during TBA periods, catch up on Facebook, or instant message other faculty members to learn what additional district technology initiatives are about to be launched on top of iPads, Haiku, Special Ed Realtime, and the Marshall Plan. Wow, technology is wonderful!
Another change has been slow to develop. I’ve been dancing on the edge of a knife for the past thirty-one years, trying to respect my own self-image and at the same time, be responsible and professional.
On Wednesday evening, John Housley introduced me at our district retirement dinner. Although his message was extremely kind, his opening made me sweat and squirm in my chair, and I quote:
It’s a wonderful and startling thing to be a student in a district and then come back and work there. The teachers you idolized are often exposed for the flawed people that they are. Sometimes it’s little things like when you overhear them talk about how they really feel about a student’s work or when you see how they eat at a PTSO free lunch… But in the case of Curt Ebersole, my teacher, my mentor, it was when I learned the truth about his personal orientation.
Curt has always so vigilantly policed the border between his personal and professional lives. So it was so shocking for me to learn that part of him has never really been out in the open. Although, come on, most of us in the room have suspected. We respect his privacy. We don’t ask, he doesn’t tell. But as we are here in the final hours of his 31 year tenure, surrounded by loyal friends, loved ones, administrators… what the hell:
I’m going to be the one to say it.
Curt Ebersole is a conservative.
And then, as I walked to the podium, Lisa Veit hit the play button on the boombox, and played YMCA as I walked to the podium. YMCA! Give me a break. Granted, this choice should not have surprised anyone – heaven knows I’ve danced to it in a room packed with sweaty bodies – at three Binaghi weddings.
John danced on the edge of the truth. And although he scared the living daylights out of me, it motivated me to consider stepping through the door that is already open. You already know that I’m gay.
But what I have to share is that I am really gay. Seriously, I’m really, REALLY gay.
[wait for hecklers]
- I’m so gay I own a pair of argyle shoes.
- I’m so gay I have my own reserved parking space – with my name – at the Fire Island ferry.
- I’m so gay I wore out my VCR watching Kevin Kline in the film IN AND OUT.
- I’m so gay my coffee table has more candles than St. Patrick’s . . . and the holy trinity is Madonna, Cher, and Judy Garland.
Hang in there – there’s a lot more . . .
- I’m so gay I reshape the tin foil swan when I leave the Cheesecake Factory, to get it just right.
- I’m so gay we have track lighting in our refrigerator.
- I’m so gay Heidi Klum calls me to decide who goes home.
- I’m so gay I have nightmares that Newt Gingrich will be elected President – and redecorate the Oval Office with black velvet paintings.
- I’m so gay I started this speech with a quote by Bette Davis.
- I’m so gay I know what a dull world we’d live in without the LBGT designers, artists, dancers, writers, and musicians who have shaped our culture.
- I’m so gay I have stopped NVOT assembly concerts cold on more than one occasion, because the student audience was not giving the students on stage the respect they deserved.
- I’m so gay I continue to believe in the musical goals I set long ago, to stand behind my students, support them through the good performances and the bad, knowing that I stand to learn as much from them as they might from me.
- I’m so gay, the three most important things I’ve taught over these years are 1) Be on time, 2) Be proud of who you are, and 3) Live up to the standards expected of you.
- I’m so gay, it hasn’t mattered at all to this community for these 31 years – and for that I am incredibly grateful.
I want to thank a lot of people. Like Evan Cooper did in 2008, when he thanked Claudia first before anyone else, I want to start out by thanking my husband, Tim, for his amazing and constant support. It’s a considerable challenge to do what we do as music educators, but to be a spouse of a band director is especially difficult. And so, Tim, for all the evenings I had to say “I have to go back to school for rehearsal,” and the mornings when I said “I won’t be back til late tonight, I have a Music Parents meeting” – thank you. Thank you for being patient and kind and understanding. Without your support over the past seven years, I don’t know what I’d have done.
To my mother, Helen, thank you for being my #1 supporter since I started clarinet lessons in fourth grade, and for teaching me, “You have to fail in order to grow.”
To Dr. Chris Nagy, Dr. Gene Westlake, Ray Jacobus, Joanette Femia, Debbie Trainor, Fred Hessler, Tony Panico, Javier Rabelo, Rich Orso, Ron Romano, Ed Cicciricco, Pat Raupers, Bob Price, Linda Mayer, Matt Spatz, Judi Margolis, Debbie Skawinski, and Tom Kaechele for your support of the music program.
I want to send a prayerful thank you out to Dean Simpson and John Paynter, whose influence I still feel every day.
Special thanks go to Janine Nehila for her partnership of 29 years; Leslie MacPherson and Jonathan Harris, for their wonderful camraderie; Evan Cooper for his guidance as my supervisor for 12 years and his collaboration on the many “Curt & Evan Show” projects over the past years; John Housley for hosting this evening’s event, and for simultaneously being my student, my teacher, and my colleague for all these years – it has been a collaboration I have valued without equal; Helene Dimitropoulous, Beth MacNamara, and Mary Beth Reid who turned a bothersome South Cafeteria duty into a lifetime friendship; Teddi Sotiropoulos and Amy Duran for asking me to fix their reeds in that practice room in Regenstein Hall 35 years ago; Louis Alloro for opening my eyes to the world of Positive Psychology; Matt Bilyk for providing the wonderful cocktail hour music and for running a successfully integrated Jazz program with me; the Marching Band Faculty – Matt Bilyk, Trish O’Shea, Nick Rosolanko, Jenn Hochenberg, Cassie Imperatore, Andrew Jaworski, PJ Bannon, Kyle Kubicki, and Mike Ferrante; the All-School Musical Faculty – John Housley, Jim Ruck, Nicole Cole, Donna Dolby, Celia Gollub, Laura Kipilman, Kelley Kulick, Steve Maietta, John Lofgren, Cindy Petrocelli, and Mac MacMillan. Marching Band and the All-School Musical have been an enormous part of my life and I am grateful for all you have contributed to the legacy of both these programs.
To my colleagues and friends in the MEBCI and the North Jersey Region I associations, I thank you for the honor of serving our organization and our students. Thank you especially to Stacey Sassi and Mark Donellan for attending this evening, and for MEBCI’s support for my Wind Conducting Symposium for over 20 years.
To my friends in my new family, the Westchester Symphonic Winds, thank you for embracing me and welcoming me. Thank you to Jim Savage and all the members who attended this evening. The past five years have been a whirlwind, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for us. The promise of making music with you as I move forward from this point is instrumental – pun intended – in keeping me focused and sane.
To Amy Wilcox: I wish you all the best as you step into your new role to lead the instrumental program at NVOT. I know it will be in the best of hands.
To Mallory: thank you for being a true friend, not just in words, but by your actions, and for inspiring me since 1976 with your musicianship and teachings.
And for all these years, the Golden Knights Music Parents Association has kindly and enthusiastically supported my efforts. They have arranged chaperones for marching performances, organized innumerable meals, Saturday morning breakfasts, Friday evening dinners, volunteered as chaperones for exchange and festival trips, handed out and collected uniforms, helped stack thousands of boxes of fruit and cases of cheesecakes, supported our students with scholarship awards and senior gifts, helped us to maintain a positive profile in our community, and held my hand when things got tough. Thank you especially to Charlotte Gerstmayr and Cindy Petrocelli, for going the long mile with me.
For this incredible evening, I want to thank the dinner committee who organized this event, beginning with Chona Freedman, John Housley, Stratos Mandalakis, Robin Martin, Mary Goldstein, Amy ibrahimaj, Anastasia Economos, Pam Phinney, Shari Bernstein, Matt Bilyk, Janine Nehila, Kumhwa Kim, Joon Chung, Andrew Jaworski, Robin Haar, Virginia Siverstein, Caitlin Walker, and Kevin Passante/Royal Printing for the donation of the program books, and especially to Tim McVey and Tapestry Design for the floral centerpieces.
I especially want to thank Stratos Mandalakis for his recent two years of service as President and his upcoming return to that position this coming school year. And a huge thank you goes to Chona Freedman. You managed to completely surprise me in 2011 when I hit the 30-year mark, and I am so grateful for the energy and devotion you brought to organizing this dinner. Thank you especially for the quilts; they are unique and wonderful and I love them!
10 years ago, Evan and I talked so much about the emotional and practical impact of the Music Suite renovation. As the plans were drawn and construction was executed, we found ourselves in a unique position. Neither of us had ever done something like this before. Without the experience of a previous renovation, we both learned a lot “on our feet.” I am expecting that the next years ahead of me will be exactly like that. Every turn will be a new adventure! October will no longer mean FRUIT SALE – but it may mean crunch time for writing student teacher evaluations in my new role at Montclair State. February may not mean production rehearsals for the All-School, but it could mean an out-of-town guest conducting opportunity. I am so fortunate to have this combination of things familiar – including my rehearsals and performances with the Westchester Symphonic Winds – and new musical ventures. I am grateful and lucky to have the experience of these Northern Valley years in my back pocket to pull out as needed to inspire me as I turn this corner.
Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables, wrote:
“Music expresses that which cannot be said,
and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
I think that says it all.
Godspeed to you all, and thank you from the bottom of my heart.