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Say thanks if you can

Many adults can remember a teacher — or, if they were quite fortunate during their formal education, several teachers — who truly inspired them in one way or another.

Some have had the opportunity to say “thank you” to those teachers, and some have not. Some may never get the chance to let their beloved teacher know how they inspired others.

However, a group of Lakeland High School graduates recently saw an opportunity to express their gratitude in a big way, and they went above and beyond in doing so.

Stephanie Odom was a fixture at Lakeland for 20 years before retiring in 2010. She taught health, physical education and driver’s education and also coached girls’ basketball, track and volleyball. In other words, she probably touched the education of just about every Lakeland graduate for an entire generation.

LaTroy Brinkley, a Lakeland graduate, got to thinking about high school recently, as happens from time to time for all of us, and thought about how much he appreciated his former teacher. He called around to a bunch of fellow Cavalier alumni and gathered the support needed for a surprise event at the First Lady event venue downtown, complete with a buffet dinner and acknowledgements from many of Odom’s former students.

Former students and athletes who attended the event recalled how Odom had impacted their lives. They recalled expressions of concern from Odom when their grades started to slip; visits to colleges to help them get a feel for what higher education is like; the Students Taking A New Direction Club that Odom started; and even a “scared straight” program where she took a group of at-risk students to a prison.

After the event, Odom said she didn’t even recall some of the things students said she had done that had a profound effect on their lives. But that’s what being an educator is all about — inspiring students day in and day out, not just in the big things but also in the little things.

We applaud Odom for her dedication to her career and her former students for taking the time to honor her. If you’re reading these words and thinking about that teacher in your life, reach out to him or her if you can. You never know how it will affect you both.