People I've Known


I'm constantly struck by how interesting people are.  That's a bit trite, but it's true.  I've had the chance to meet and be influences by an amazing array of fascinating individuals.  One of the creative and reflective projects I've always had in the back of my mind is to profile some of the folks that have especially impacted my life.  During a previous, especially reflective period of my life, I wrote profiles of a number of folks I knew.  I'll work on posting both those and new profiles here.

I'm not sure, but I think I'll end up using initials or pseudonyms for some people, in order to respect their privacy and mine.

Britt

posted Nov 4, 2010, 5:10 PM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Nov 4, 2010, 5:32 PM ]

Britt was a VISTA with me from 1998-1999.  She was from North Dakota, and grew up on an organic farm.  She was a fascinating person, and even though I only knew her for a year she left me with a number of powerful memories.

Knowing her is what introduced me to the idea of organic food, and initiated my interest in agriculture.  It was fascinating listening to her stories of growing up on an organic farm in North Dakota, an experience that was worlds away from anything I was familiar with.  She wasn't preachy, and didn't try to "convert" anyone, but just hearing her perspective about foods and agriculture had a permanent impact on me.  I didn't become a vegetarian, and I still don't eat healthy (I'm trying!), but I am much more aware of food issues; I listen to the podcast "Farming Today" everyday, and try to pay attention to news about farming and food policy.  That's pretty much all because of her.

Britt also really helped me begin to take reflection seriously.  I was already familiar with the concept of reflection, and thought it was a good idea, but seeing how committed she was too it reinforced how important reflection really is.

A favorite memory of Britt is spending Thanksgiving together.  Neither one of us were going home over Thanksgiving, so she invited me to have dinner with her.  She was living in the dorms at Pine Manor College and I was living at Fitchburg State, so I went into Boston for the day and spent the night.  She made dinner, we went to the play Shear Madness, which neither of us had seen, and we went to Revere Beach, because neither of us had been there.  Overall it was a delightfully fun and relaxing day and a half, and is one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories.

Just in general, I was incredibly impressed by Britt.  She radiated a strength of character and purity of spirit that's hard to describe.  She had a quiet dignity, a thoughtful approach to life and strong sense of integrity.  She also had a kind of subtle power that made people take her seriously.  There was something about her I found both admirable and inspiring.  We lost touch after our VISTA year, but even so, I feel lucky to have known her.

Lisa

posted Jan 15, 2010, 7:03 PM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Jan 15, 2010, 7:34 PM ]

My experience with romantic relationships is quite limited.  I've really only dated two people, and I married the second one.

Lisa is the one I didn't marry.  We were friends in college, and if I remember right we knew each other for all four years of college.  We had a very low-key run at dating each other in the last semester of our senior year.  It was fun and an all-around nice experience, but there weren't any romantic sparks.  So when we graduated we just kind of naturally stopped dating and became friends, as we both pursued different directions.

I have so many fun memories of having known Lisa.  I'm not sure the best way to organize them, so I'll start with just a brainstorm:

  • Lisa was the first person I knew who roller bladed, and the most committed.  She started in college and really worked hard to build her skill.  I always respected her for taking it on, and it was exciting to watch her improve.
  • During our last semester, and our brief period dating, we went to the annual formal dance held by our community service group, and it was the most fun I have ever had in a tuxedo, and the most fun I've had at any sort of formal dance/ball.
  • After we graduated I went with Lisa to help her look at apartments and rooms for rent in the city where she was going to attend grad school.  I took a long weekend off from work and took the bus to meet her, and we did a tour of places she might live.  It was simple, and a funny sort of trip, but it was also exciting to be there to see the beginning of her new life.
  • Whenever I think of Physics I think of Lisa.  She was a physics major and went on to pursue physics in grad school.  I think knowing her is one of the reasons that when I think of physicists, I almost always picture them as women!
  • Lisa was very, very quiet.  She just didn't like to talk much.  I was used to people that talked a lot, and this made her very different from most people I knew.
  • Lisa took a few Women's Studies classes, and it was through her that I first read the Yellow Wallpaper.  I also read a few other pieces in her Women's Studies reader.  That was one of my earliest introduction to feminist ideas, and planted seeds for how my ideas about gender issues would develop over time.
  • I think our first "official" date was to see the male acapella group at our college.  It was so much fun, and the ideal first date.  The show was absolutely hilarious.

One of my most special memories of Lisa, though, is playing pool.  There were three of us that had a weekly appointment to play pool in the college game room.  None of us were especially good (or any good), and I didn't care if we followed the rules or not.  I've always loved pool, and for me it was just awesome that we had this fun weekly pool meeting.  If I remember right it was my idea, and Lisa and Tyler (who I'll definitely write about eventually) were willing to go along.

There was something about our chemistry that just clicked for me.  Other people would join us from time to time, but the three of us had a special dynamic that just really worked.

Lisa and Tyler were the core of my college friends, and we had a lot of friends in common, so we did things together a lot.  The three of us were all really different, but we clicked in a way that was really special.

I'm not sure how to summarize everything I took away from my relationship with Lisa.  She was a special friend, an all around wonderful person, and my first girlfriend.  We shared the kind of happy and meaningful college experiences that make me smile to think about.  

Maybe that's all I need to say.

Social Studies Teacher - 9th grade

posted Jan 6, 2010, 7:01 PM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Jan 6, 2010, 7:29 PM ]

This past semester I found myself thinking about my ninth grade social studies teacher.  Unfortunately I don't remember his name; I'll have to try and find a yearbook (if I have one) and look him up.

Thinking back on his class, it seems like he really encouraged us to develop our critical and creative thinking skills.

He said he was a member of the Flat Earth Society; he thought the Earth was flat and that man had never landed on the moon.  He challenged any of us to try and convince him otherwise about either claim.  Students would try it on a regular basis, and he was never convinced.

Looking back on it, his ultimate argument was always that we were relying on information we heard from other sources; none of us had any primary evidence.  But he used all kinds of arguments.  He always seemed very sincere in his beliefs, but also approached the discussion in a good natured way, with a certain mischievous smile.  I could never tell when he was serious and when he was just pulling our collective leg.

He believed that California could be self-sufficient, and should secede from the US.  Again, I was never sure if he was serious, but most of his reasoning was based on an economic argument; as far as I know that t was my first introduction to the concept of economics.

He also had a funny policy about being tardy for class; if you came up with a really good story explaining why you were late, he would let it go.  So people would try to come up with all sorts of stories.  But he had high standards; the story had to be original, compelling, believable and funny/interesting; few people got away from it.  But it was fun to see people try, and to hear him critique their stories.

He was also the first person to introduce me to comparative religion; my class project was on Taoism, and he was really positive about me learning about other cultures and religion.  That was my first exposure to a non-Christian belief system, and the experience planted my interest in learning about different religious traditions, an interest I still have.

Intentionally or not, he was encouraging our creativity and critical thinking skills in ways that were really engaging; we had debates/discussions, we engaged in storytelling, we learned about economics and other cultures, and it was all fun.

Was he intentionally using a fun/innovative approach to education?  Or was he just a bit weird?  Maybe it was a mix of both.  I guess I'll never know.  Whatever the case, he had a real impact on me, and contributed a lot to my education.

Brian

posted Dec 3, 2009, 9:49 AM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Jan 15, 2010, 7:02 PM ]

When I first moved to Massachusetts to become a VISTA I had no idea what to expect.  I didn't know the area, or anyone here.  I was lucky that I was able to work with an awesome group of VISTAs, and build some special relationships with them, but they were removed from my day to day work and life.  I was, then, even luckier to work with a really special person who became a friend and a mentor.

Brian worked in the same department I did, and was a friend and powerful influence.  He was incredibly nice, intelligent and insightful, and always encouraging, no matter how frustrating work might be.  He always had great ideas and suggestions.  Even more important, he modelled many of the professional traits and ethics that I live by today.  He always tried to do what was best for students, but he also understood when to confront them and how to set healthy boundaries.  He empowered students, but also created systems that kept programs running.  He was honest and responsible, always trying to do the best he could.  He was committed to being innovative, and his own professional development, constantly improving himself and his programs.

I was lucky to work with and know someone like Brian, who could be a supportive friend and also a professional role model.  His life hadn't been easy, and he struggled with his own issues, but he always worked hard and moved forward, and he was one of the most upstanding and all-around good people I've ever known. 

Ron

posted Dec 3, 2009, 9:27 AM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Dec 3, 2009, 9:49 AM ]

Ron was my first roommate in college, and played a key role in my development.  I'm pretty introverted, and he was one of the first people I met my first year - at that point we each had single rooms, and we shared a room  our sophomore year.

In addition to being my first friend on campus, Ron introduced me to the community service group that became my main activity for the rest of my college experience.  My first year in school I had tried joining the theatre group (as a behind the scenes person - I'm no performer!), and it was fun, but it wasn't the right fit for me.  Ron encouraged me to join the community service group he was in, which I did the first semester of my sophomore year, and it changed my life; it was the most formative part of my undergraduate experience, and shaped my professional goals afterwards.  I have Ron to thank for introducing me to it.

I have Ron to thank for something else that I hate to admit...Ron's family was from Thailand, and he got mad at me twice for insensitive comments I made about his culture.  I didn't mean anything bad by either comment; they weren't hateful or mean, but they were completely insensitive, self-absorbed and rude...the kind of negligent racism that it's easy to fall into as a part of the "dominant" culture.  I wasn't sensitive to what it means to be from a different culture, or cognizant that what I said would come across as rude and ignorant.  I  only realized it because he got mad and confronted me on the comments.  It's embarrasing to think about now, but I also think it's important for me to admit and acknowledge the incidents, as the beginning of the process of recognizing my biases...

Ron also opened my eyes to other cultures in more positive circumstances.  His parents had come to the US before he was born, and he grew up in Kentucky, and hearing about his family's experience acclimating to the US gave me powerful insights into issues of immigration and cultural adaptation.  

So Ron not only got me involved in an extracurricular activity that changed my life, he also helped me along the path of seeing my own biases and appreciating diversity...all of which I'm grateful for.

Mr. Woolfry

posted Dec 3, 2009, 9:03 AM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Dec 3, 2009, 9:19 AM ]

Since this site started as a school project, I might as well start this with one of the many teachers that have influenced my life.  Mr. Woolfry taught my 11th grade AP American history class, and is, to this day, one of the best teachers I've ever had.  He didn't do anything too flashy, too glamorous, but I loved the class, and I learned a lot of history.

That class was the first time I ever thought I might be smart.  Until then I had been a B or C student, with occasional flashes of A's.  But my 10th grade English teacher (I'll feature her later) saw something more in me, and when I transferred to a new school for 11th grade the school decided to give me a chance in AP History.  I was terrified and intimidated, but when I got into class, it was awesome!  Mr. Woolfry's style was simple and clear; it was the perfect fit for me at the time, and he really created a place for me to bloom as a student (I've wilted quite a bit since then).  

Looking back, incomplete memories make me think that Mr. Woolfry was probably conservative but the class also played a major role in my movement towards being liberal.  As much as possible we studied history as it was, without blinders, and I learned a lot about the injustices in American history.  I still remember how angry I was when I read about the the Japanese internment during World War II, I did my literary paper for class on Uncle Tom's Cabin, I was really impressed with the women who fought for suffrage, and I sympathized with exploited factory workers.

But I don't want it to seem like the class was biased...like I said, I think Mr. Woolfry was conservative.  As a class we studied history, with it's successes and failures, and the overwhelming focus was on developing an understanding of the complexity of history, and how it shaped where we are today.  I'm sure other students heard the same lessons I did, and went conservative...what Mr. Woolfry did was make history engaging an meaningful, and what we did with that was up to us...

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