School Days: Inspiring Greatness

School Days: Inspiring Greatness

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

 Norman Rockwell - Artists Daughter

“Everybody we meet has an influence on us and an impact – good or bad. And I think that’s why we have to be careful with the way we handle people because what we’re doing is making an impact. Ernie Harwell

In Cambridge, MA in the early part of the last century, my mother’s cousin Ted was born. Ted was a spunky kid who grew up under less-than-stellar circumstances after his father died and his mother re-married. Apart from the comical tales of his escapades as a practical young boy trying to provide for his mother and younger siblings, the things I loved most about Cousin Ted was his complete understanding that he was always a role model; that he made the choice not to pass on to others the treatment he received; that he never shied away from helping other kids turn their lives around to reach beyond their circumstances and make a solid, happy life. By the time Cousin Ted died a little over a year ago, we figure that he influenced in a positive manner over 1,000 people simply by living his life to the best of his ability, being a role model and an honorable man in his everyday dealings.

I believe Cousin Ted learned this way of living from his uncle, my mother’s father. I hear more people tell me how Denny saved them, changed their lives. Whether it was by giving up his chance at overtime so that a father could feed his family; by having people in place invisibly to watch out for and protect Cousin Ted and his siblings; by being a safe haven for another nephew, the lone survivor of 250 kids in his unit in Viet Nam; or by a million other kindnesses, my grandfather (and grandmother, too, as they were a team) influenced an unknown number of people in their lives because of the example they set in the ordinary things they did. Like Cousin Ted, they accomplished the extraordinary while tackling the ordinary. Each one inspired greatness in others.

As a longtime proponent of the concept that you can change the world one person at a time, I cannot emphasize enough that the importance of being a role model cannot be overstated. Research shows repeatedly the positive impact that good mentorship has on an individual’s success in business and in life. In everything we do, or say, or write, we are a Role Model to someone, whether we have ever met this person or not. Ripples and Consequences. The question is, “how seriously will we take this responsibility and do our part to make the world a better place, one person at a time”?

Alexander Calder and his grandson
Alexander Calder and his grandson

2015 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

School Days: Bringing it Home

It’s glorious to be able to go onto the Internet and hear any kind of music anywhere, from anywhere, and get it instantly. But there’s also something glorious about having a record with a sleeve and looking at the artwork, putting it on the turntable and playing it, there’s still something romantic to me about that.

Conor Oberst
Norman Rockwell - Connoisseur Courtesy of The Norman Rockwell Museum
Norman Rockwell – Connoisseur
Courtesy of The Norman Rockwell Museum

The other day I received a notice from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston telling me of the upcoming exhibitions. As I read the information, I couldn’t help but feel just a bit giddy at the prospect of seeing the Dutch Masters up-close-and-personal. I remember going to the same museum as a child, being awestruck at the fact that there were people in the world who could look at a block of marble or an oozing mess of color on a plate and see the intricate form or combination of colors that so perfectly represented the physical and emotional form of people, places, and things.

I was never able to recreate the scenes they did until I discovered writing. Still, the impression that seeing these masterpieces in the flesh as it were was a formative experience for my life, one upon which I continue to draw inspiration. In honor of this opportunity that I had, Today’s post is all about bringing your attention to programs dedicated to bringing art, in all its forms, to schoolchildren. Below are the links to some great programs. May they continue to inspire you.

There are so many other programs and collaborations between museums and schools that provide wonderful experiences for students, experiences that influence all aspects of their lives. If you are part of a program that brings art in its various forms to students who would otherwise not have the exposure, send me an e-mail  ( with the details.I will include the links in future posts. I am happy to spread the word and give others the chance at experiencing art in a way that will change their lives.

Have a wonderful day.

2015 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

School Days: Making the Most of It

School Days: Making the Most of It

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

In my school, the brightest boys did math and physics, the less bright did physics and chemistry, and the least bright did biology. I wanted to do math and physics, but my father made me do chemistry because he thought there would be no jobs for mathematicians.”

Stephen Hawking


It seems as though September is the month for running into old schoolmates of mine with a chance to reminisce.  A running theme seems to be the path we took versus the path we dreamed of taking, often through the interference of parents who dreamed of different paths for their children.

Some of my friends have difficulty getting beyond the fact that their parents made decisions about the lives of their children that they had no business making – Guiding, yes. Deciding, no. –  (“I don’t care what you want. You’re going to do what I tell you to as long as I’m paying for it.”) Others see that treasured opportunities would never have been available if they had defied their parents and pursued their dream-of-the-moment yet still regret that they were deprived of the experiences of trying, failing, and altering their dreams. Still others, realize that no matter how much they wanted to become an Olympic figure skater or mathematical savior of the world, or even a Wall Street wizard, if they had pursued their dreams at that time in their lives, they would not have succeeded because they simply were not ready to handle the responsibility and discipline required to achieve the level of success to which they aspired.

In my case, I followed the corporate path in spite of my desire to become a marine zoologist because of external circumstances and my own lack of self-confidence. After a long career in Customer Relations, I finally came to understand that I was meant to be a writer, something I never considered in my school days. We all take different paths to the thresholds of our life’s work, our calling. Consequently, some arrive later than others do. Coincidentally, the paths we take teach us precisely what we need to know in order to recognize and fully accept our calling as well as what to do with it once it’s ours. My training in the corporate world, for example, was the perfect preparation for the message I feel called to bring forth, that of Ripples and Consequences, of the dignity of every human being, and of the greatness in the ordinary lives we live.

As the school year transitions from novelty to established routine, let’s think about all the ways our life path has brought us to our current threshold, what lessons we have learned along the way that would not have otherwise been ours, how these lessons have shaped us into the persons we are today, and how we will embrace the journey before us walking headlong through the next portal to see what wonders lie in wait.

2015 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

School Days: Celebrating Regionalism, Expanding Horizons

School Days: Celebrating Regionalism, Expanding Horizons

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Heidi - Jessie Wilcox Smith - 1922
Heidi – Jessie Wilcox Smith – 1922

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.

George A. Moore

Monday night, Labor Day here in the U.S.A., I was suddenly transported to my grammar school days when I had my first bite of tonight’s dinner. On holidays that celebrate national traits or events, as Labor Day does, I like to cook dishes that celebrate the roots of the day’s meaning and origins. In the case of Monday’s celebration, the usual hamburgers and hot dogs cooked on the grill  or the fried chicken I was planning on making just didn’t seem to express the meaning of the day.

Out of the blue, I thought of a dish we used to have in school. Our grammar school did not have a kitchen so most of the meals were prepared at the high school and delivered in shiny, insulated boxes to keep them hot. Every Thursday, the sub shop down the street would deliver the Special of the Day as a treat – good old-fashioned, traditional Merrimack Valley fare – Chicken Barbeque sandwiches, or “Chickin Bahb” in true Bostonian dialect.

Chicken Barb is not what one from outside the area expects, a piece of grilled chicken dripping in barbeque sauce. No, Chicken Barb in the Merrimack Valley is boiled, shredded chicken served hot on a bulkie roll slathered in mayonnaise with a little lettuce. I did not have an official recipe on hand so I used my deductive reasoning skills to create as authentic a recipe as possible and to my delight, and that of the rest of the diners, it was just as we remembered – heavenly.

Print this out and try it tonight.
Print this out and try it tonight.

Regional traditions, cultures, and specialties are a tremendous source of pride for people the world over.  Some people create rivalries over these regionalities, as I have dubbed them,  to varying degrees. Much of the history we study in school is of the clashes between two or more cultures over such regional pride. From Puerto Limon to Rarotonga to Auckland to Bangkok, Mumbai, Haifa, Dubrovnik, Venice, and every other place in the world, people have had to struggle to preserve their culture. Oftentimes, the conflicts arise out of a desire to spread one’s culture and way of life beyond one’s boundaries at the expense of other cultures; therefore, one is either the perpetrator or the victim. This need not be so.

What is this need we humans seem to have to dominate other ways of life, to see difference as detrimental? Around the world, people in every village and city, region and nation build centers to celebrate and preserve their expression of life and history through music, dance, literature, and all forms of art. Hong Kong, China has at least ten major opera houses. Venice, Italy likewise. Puerto Limon, Costa Rica celebrates a Day of the Cultures on Columbus Day. You will find some form of cultural center, a place to gather to display, re-tell, and preserve local traditions and art forms, wherever people live. I have a friend in France who helped start a museum to preserve the local insect population because these insects played a role in many of the traditions she grew up with.

One thing that my travels around the globe have taught me is that regionalities bring infinite levels of richness to our lives. Regionalities are what ground us, what root us in who we are and give us wings to expand our horizons by exploring the world, adding richness by discovering what makes others who they have become and how they came to be so, learning life lessons along the way. I have made more friends around the world by letting people share their traditions, listening to their stories, trying their special foods, making a point to learn what I can of their languages. Who would have thought that a simple bite from a sandwich of my youth could take me on a journey around the world, bringing me home to find deeper meaning and richness in my roots, my heritage, and my family?

School Days: Learning to Make a Difference

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Norman Rockwell - Studying
Norman Rockwell – Studying

“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”

George Washington Carver

School. It can be a touchy subject for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. Anyone who has been packed up and shipped off to school for twelve or so years, will have encountered his or her fair share of experiences good and bad that set the course for his or her taste for learning, oftentimes for the rest of his or her life.

I met a long-time friend of mine for coffee a while back. We first met in high school, I following my prescribed path through the public school system, she trying to make the most of a situation in which she did not want to be. Back then, I can’t think of anyone who would have known that my friend hated the situation her parents had placed her in.

After winning an academic  scholarship to her school of choice, her parents refused to let her attend the school because of their own fears and limitations involving their experiences with school – “This family’s not smart, she has no business going to a school like that,” “We’ve made a comfortable living with our public school education so it’s good enough for our kids,” “Sure, she’s smart compared to the kids in her small town class but she’ll never be able to measure up to the kids in that school”. This not-so-smart friend of mine recently graduated from Harvard with an impressive ranking and having made substantial contributions to her field of research.

Norman Rockwell - Inventor
Norman Rockwell – The Inventor

As we were talking, we discussed the tremendous role that others play in one’s sense of self and confidence in one’s abilities, as well as how much damage others can do to your psyche when they live, not only their own lives but yours as well, out of built up fears and misconceptions. We talked about the life choices we made based on what others had to say or had done to us that we regret. Ultimately though, we realized that we both have chosen to take the responsibility for our lives and educations, making the most of the opportunities before us. We both realized that we embrace education in any and every manner in which it presents itself to us, that we have always done this. We both realized that because of our tenacity in our unconscious pursuit of learning and becoming better people, it allowed us to discover our passion for learning later in life and have consciously pursued it ever since. Education for us truly has been the key that has unlocked the golden door to freedom.

The Problem We All Live With - Norman Rockwell
The Problem We All Live With – Norman Rockwell

Although the opportunity to have a basic education is de rigueur for many people around the world, so many others have difficult struggles to obtain a fraction of a fraction of what we take for granted. As school begins here in the U.S.A., keep in mind that your experiences, fears, and desires regarding school, education, and career is not the same for the children you encounter. Their experiences and attitudes may be far worse than you can imagine, or they may be far better. What matters is that we listen to them, truly listen. Read between the lines. Pay attention to words and behaviors,  to what is said and what is not said. Try to revisit your own experiences, deal with them and use those experiences to help someone else obtain their key to freedom a little more easily. Your support and encouragement may be the defining difference that changes lives.