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How I Changed a Life. The Power of Words.

Audrey Hunt, music teacher, shares a true story that will tug at your heart.


The Power of Words

Never doubt the power of words. What we say and how we say it can impact someone's life, either for the better or for the worst. Even a single word, like "yes," can be a green light that implies, "Go, you're on the right track."

The following story will tug at your heart and confirm how our choice of words may even save a life.

A Life-Changing Moment

In the 1970s, I met a young man with brown wavy hair, sad green eyes, and lips that never seemed to smile. His name was Edward, and he stood a little over 6 feet tall. He presented a mood of quiet, shy, and almost pitiful demure. Little did I know that I would come to play a pivotal moment in my student's life.

Edward had enrolled in my Music Theory class at a beautiful California Community College located in the small, sleepy town of Moorpark. Lovely green rolling hills landscaped the small College and the newly developed Music Department.

I was proud to be on staff, offering a variety of music classes. A single mother of three, I worked hard to attain a teaching degree.

A Defying Attitude

The first day of class, as students mill around deciding which seat to take, is interesting. Some are confident and more aggressive than others, claiming the front row for themselves. Other, less secure, fill up the middle section, and the back row is usually reserved for the shy students and even those who do not want to be here in the first place.

It was hard not to notice the only six-foot boy, Edward, as he walked into the classroom a few minutes late and positioned himself in the back row. He slumped into his chair and lowered his head with his arms folded across his chest in a defying manner. This would be his general entrance into class for the remainder of the semester.

As weeks progressed and tests were given, Edward did not do well. He managed to turn in homework which was marked way below his ability level with my notes. He never participated in the class discussions or offered to answer any questions.

To my knowledge, he had no friends at school. Sometimes, I would see him sitting on the grass, under a tree, munching on a sandwich, and staring into space during lunch. On occasion, I would allow myself to join him on the grass and see if I could start up a conversation. I had this gnawing feeling that I needed to know him better, but at the same time, stay professional and not allow myself to get involved.

As Teachers, We Can Change Lives

Teachers can shape behaviors in students by example, and by demonstrating love and compassion.

Teachers can shape behaviors in students by example, and by demonstrating love and compassion.

Moorpark College Where I Met Edward

Listen to Your Heart, Not Your Head

Edward rarely talked to me or anyone. He would nod his head up and down or side to side for a yes, or a no. Nevertheless, I hoped that at some point he would open up to me.

Edward missed too many classes, and when he did attend, he carried himself like an older man as though the weight of the world sat on his shoulders. However, one morning, as class was ending and students filed out, Edward shot me a quick glance, and I swear that I saw the beginnings of a smile appear.

The more positive interest I directed to Edward, the better his grades became. The semester was winding down, finals were about to begin, and I worried about Edwards's reaction to his final grade. He was the last one to finish his final exam, and as I waited, I said a silent prayer for him. I so much wanted to be able to give him a good grade. In those days, I had a reputation for being a strict but fair grading instructor. I also had the largest enrollment of students in the music department. I needed to live up to my reputation. Yes, indeed. I would do it by the book. I would make no exceptions.

Finally, Edward finished the exam, and he looked utterly worn out and defeated. As he made his way to the exit, I wished him good luck and told him I would be giving out the final grades on Tuesday at 9:00 a.m.

My thoughts continued to lead me to Edward and the final exam that he struggled with. I had trouble sleeping that weekend. Somehow, I knew that the grade I would give him would be a turning point in this young man's life.

My Meeting With Edward

Tuesday morning finally came. I made breakfast, fed the children, and helped prepare them for school. There was a mountain of laundry, dishes to do, and beds to be changed before I headed out for my classes. None of that seemed to matter. I was a teacher, and I had a responsibility to hand out final grades today.

Grades were based on classroom participation, completed assignments, exams, and attendance. Edward would be no exception. He would be given the grade he deserved. Perhaps he needed to learn the biggest lesson of all – to be responsible for his actions. I felt good about my decision.

I sat in my office looking at the long line of students waiting to meet with me to receive their final grade. I allowed one person at a time to come in, take a seat, close the door and prepare to be evaluated. After each student left my office, I would peek at the line to see where Edward was. After an hour or so, the line became shorter, and still, there was no Edward. I began to worry. Did something happen at home to delay him? Was there an accident on the way to school? Maybe he was stopped by a policeman? Perhaps he is sick.

The last student in line met with me, received their grades, and left.

Where is Edward? Shall I wait a little longer? Am I fooling myself? He is not coming. I felt disappointed but decided to lock up my office and go home. I had done all I could. But something deep within continued to gnaw at me. I felt sick to my stomach. My eyes filled with tears.

What is wrong with me? I took some deep breaths, sat back, and closed my eyes. In front of me lay the papers, the final exam for Edward. I had not decided what kind of grade to give him. Well, it didn’t matter as he didn’t show up anyhow. I looked down at the exam with his name printed on it and saw an imaginary D as his final grade.

You're an "A" Person

I got up from my chair, gathered my things, and closed the office door behind me. As I reached for my keys to lock up my office, I heard footsteps. I held my breath as I turned to see Edward standing behind me. He apologized for being late and asked if I would please give him his final grade. I hesitated for a few seconds, then cautiously opened the door and asked him to have a seat.

His eyes were sunk with dark black circles under them, and the hollows of his cheeks were drawn. His swollen lips were cracked with dried blood in the creases. His skin was pale, and his hair matted. He was wearing the same clothes he had worn for the last few weeks.

"Would you like some water?" I asked him. He replied, "No, thank you," as he sat trembling. Then he spoke to me in a low, quivering voice.

"I know that I'm getting a low grade on my final. I realize that I haven't been participating in class and that I am an embarrassment to others. I'm lazy, selfish, stupid, and an ugly no-good-for-anything person. I have no place on this earth, and what's more, no one can ever love a person like me. I am a hopeless case with absolutely no future".

I could not believe my ears. I wanted to interrupt him, to convince him that he was none of these things. Instead – I let him talk. I listened with my heart and not my head. I fought back my tears to manifest my strength and professionalism.

When he had finished, I faced him, looked directly into his somber eyes, and said, "Edward, your final grade is an A."

His reaction was one of total and complete surprise. "You are giving me an A? Me? Why would you give me an A when I did such a poor job in class, on my assignments, and my final exam. Why would you do that?"

My answer to Edward was this. "You may appear to be a D student, but you are an A person. I believe in you now, and I will always believe in you. I am here for you now, and I will always be here for you. Never, ever forget that. Now, go and create the life you dream of. Believe in yourself. I will be watching. And by the way, Edward - I love you."

In all my years of teaching, I have never graded a student this way.


The Goodbye Note

Later that evening, as I prepared to sleep, I began to question what I had done. Did I make a terrible mistake? Had Edward filled the room with lies to win me over and get a high grade? Had I been had? Was my level of compassion playing tricks on me? Finally, my exhausted mind and body gave way to deep sleep.

At 3:00 a.m., the phone rang. In a fog, I tried to sound alert as I answered, "Hello.". The voice on the phone asked me if I were Edwards Music Theory and Piano Teacher at Moorpark College. I told him yes and waited.

"I am a priest from Edwards' Church, and I have something to tell you. I want to thank you on behalf of Edward's family and myself for saving his life today."

The Priest went on to explain to me the events leading up to this phone call.

"Edward has an older brother who has always been angry because he is short in height, although scholastically a high achiever and excels in sports. This brother has always been extremely jealous of the 6-foot frame Edward and has belittled and verbally abused Edward most of his life."

This treatment has caused him to have severe low self-esteem and miserable existence. Edward thought of his brother as his hero and wanted desperately to please him. I am not sure what role the parents played, but I get the impression they were wrapped up in their business and had little, if any, time for the boys.

Treat Everyone As if They Are an "A" Person

I learned that the day Edward came to meet with me regarding his final grade, he had left a note on his pillow.

It read: "I am sorry that I could not be the kind of son and brother you all wanted me to be. All I ever wanted was to be loved. I am sorry for being unlovable. I will go now…you will find me in the closet. I am sorry for any inconvenience I have caused you. Please have my body cremated. My small savings is in the top right-hand drawer of the dresser. "

Edward wrote that note before meeting with me. He planned to see me one last time before taking his own life.

When I gave him an A, it represented that I believed in him and that I loved him and would be here for him. At that very moment, something changed within him.

He had never heard those words before, and it gave him a glimmer of hope. This is all he needed. He left my office feeling positive and uplifted for the first time in his life. He felt so good. He decided to take a long walk in the surrounding hills around the music department and re-live the confirmation he had just heard.

He was loved…yes, someone in his useless life loved him and believed in him. He forgot all about his plan to do away with himself.

Meanwhile, his family found the note and went to Edward's room closet where they found a rope hanging from the rafters.

His closet was carefully prepared as the last thing he would see before dying. A large photograph of his brother was mounted on the wall, in view, from where the rope was hanging.

Loss of Hope Can Lead to Loss of Life

Words of hope comfort and uplift others. Loss of hope can lead to a loss of life.

Words of hope comfort and uplift others. Loss of hope can lead to a loss of life.

Never Throw Anyone Out

My father taught me that kindness is a gift everyone can afford to give. We can all be teachers of love, respect, and compassion. Such opportunities pass many peoples way if they can see them

The late Audrey Hepburn said it best: "People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Never throw out anyone."

How do we restore and renew someones thinking, mainly when thoughts are directed inwardly? It begins with our choice of words as we engage in conversation. Even one positive, encouraging word can powerfully influence someone's life.

I've put together this list of words so that you can incorporate them into your everyday talk. Always be sincere when giving another person hope and encouragement:

  • Bright
  • Awesome
  • Beautiful
  • Courageous
  • Brave
  • Kind
  • Successful
  • Creative
  • Determined
  • Brilliant
  • Breathtaking
  • Wonderful
  • Inspiring
  • Dependable
  • Blessed
  • Angel
  • Caring
  • Delightful
  • Deserving
  • Dedicated
  • Enchanting
  • Exciting
  • Quality
  • Loving
  • Extraordinary
  • Persevere
  • Easy
  • Flourish
  • Forgiving
  • Fascinating
  • Glowing
  • Goodness
  • Light
  • Honor Harmonious
  • Hero
  • Heavenly
  • Impressive
  • Genius
  • Clean
  • Brilliance
  • Masterful
  • Lovely
  • Magnetism
  • Leader
  • Magnificent
  • Outstanding
  • Organized
  • Pleasant
  • Overcome
  • Priceless
  • Namaste

Choose Your Words Wisely

Oh, the power of the spoken word! We never know, but what we say and how we say it might completely change someone’s life. Words, what we say, and the tone we use, can have either a negative or positive effect on others.

It takes so little to give a word of encouragement to others, and doing so can change their life. We have the power to empower others with a smile or a kind word.

Edward re-enrolled in my Music Theory and Piano Class the following semester. He worked hard, tutored other students in the class after school three days a week, and this time passed his final exam100% and got a genuine A. Today, Edward has a beautiful wife and four sweet children. He is a successful Dentist in Southern California and donates his spare time to abused children, helping them find love, acceptance, and hope.

Many of the most important and life-changing moments of my life have occurred when I have been a teacher. The lessons I have learned have formed my character and shaped my destiny. Without them, I would be a very different person and in a different place than I am today.

If you treat an individual as he is, he will stay as he is, but if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.

Words are the most powerful force available to humanity. Use them wisely. Sow the seeds of encouragement.

Practice saying kind words to others by first saying kind words to yourself.

Audrey Hunt

Questions & Answers

Question: May I use this story as an example in an article I am writing?

Answer: Please email me a copy of the article you are writing before I give you permission.

Question: Would it be possible for me to include this article in a speech (programmed oral interpretation) I am doing? The topic is the power of words, and I think this would be perfect.

Answer: This article has a copyright and cannot be duplicated. Please email me for more information.

© 2010 Audrey Hunt

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