"She Has Always Been an Inspiration - Thank You Zezette."
2002 New England Benefit Dinner speech by Reggie Verdieu, Facing History alumnus (Fenway H.S. '91) and student teacher (City on a Hill Charter School).
Good evening. My name is Reggie Verdieu. In 1991, as a senior at the Fenway High School, I spoke at a Facing History and Ourselves dinner. Now, eleven years later, I am honored to speak again as a student teacher at the City on a Hill Charter School. In a way I'm not that surprised to be here again. Ever since I took Facing History as a student, I've had a passion for history and a desire to be a teacher.
My senior year at Fenway was a key year in my life; it was the year that I became a strong student. The year long Facing History course had a lot to do with that. Even a decade later, I vividly remember details of the class. As a Haitian-American teenager struggling to fit in, I was powerfully moved by the discussions of race and class and identity. When Zezette Larsen, a Holocaust survivor, spoke to our class I remember thinking that what we were studying was no longer dry written history but about people and their stories. I was surprised that despite all the horrible things that Zezette had been through that she had a very optimistic view on life. She has always been an inspiration - Thank you Zezette.
Recently, someone asked me to explain Facing History and Ourselves. I said Facing History is about "teaching young people about difficult periods in history in ways that are engaging, personal, and humane so that it gives them the freedom to create their own ideas and formulate their own decisions." Undoubtedly, Facing History influenced key decisions in my life. After taking Facing History, history was my favorite subject. I decided to major in history and graduated Amherst college with a degree in Latin American and Caribbean history. I decided to become a teacher because I was turned on by the power of the Facing History curriculum and I wanted to make this type of history accessible to students sooner.
Since September I have been a student teacher as part of the Teachers Institute at City on a Hill Charter School. When I think about how to engage my students, I think about how I became turned on to history. What I learned as a student of Facing History I am applying as a teacher. The only way to make our students passionate about history is to connect it back to them, to have them reflect on themselves and how they relate to the world and society.