Duct Tape and Diet Coke. For Ms. Schwarz.

This is the memorial I wrote for my former gifted teacher, Ms. Cindy Schwarz. It was printed in The Osawatomie Journal.

This is something I never thought I would have to write. I don’t want to write it; not because I don’t care, but because that means it’s real. I’ve been in a state of shock since Tuesday. We all have, “we” being the other students from my gifted class. The sudden passing of Ms. Schwarz has left a hole in all our hearts and lives that we aren’t quite sure how to deal with.

For me, this tragedy is close to home. I’ve known Ms. Schwarz since I was a little girl. She became my older sister Amanda’s gifted teacher after my family moved to Osawatomie in the early nineties. I don’t remember very much from when I was little, but some of the memories I do have include Ms. Schwarz. During Amanda’s IEP sessions with my parents, Ms. Schwarz would give me crayons and coloring pages so I wouldn’t get bored. A few short years later, she became my gifted teacher. She was the first teacher that I ever really bonded with, and the one teacher who really believed in me.

Ms. Schwarz was always pushing her students to dive head first into whatever interested them. When Andrew was really into sports and math in middle school, she helped him figure out a way to incorporate complex math equations into Chiefs practice. At the same time, she helped me wade my way through Shakespeare, ending the project with a trip to the Renaissance Festival. When Ms. Schwarz was approached to enlist her high school students for the first ever Talking Tombstones presentation, she came to me and asked if I would help with the research and script writing because she knew that I would love it. She never gave up on her students, especially when they gave up on themselves. Ms. Schwarz saw me through the various ups and downs of adolescence and helped me push through. As I got older, she pushed me through things I didn’t even want to approach.

In high school, Ms. Schwarz stopped being my teacher and mentor. She became my friend. During class, she would encourage us to fight and debate because she knew that we learned more from each other than we did from books. Finally, she let me have a Diet Coke from her personal supply, which I considered an accomplishment equivalent to climbing Mount Everest, and when I broke 30 on the ACTS she cried with me. Ms. Schwarz gave me every resource she had for writing, colleges, and publishing as a young adult. Every other day she was thrusting into my hand a phone number, email address, or website of someone who could teach me something about my career. But it wasn’t just me she was helping.

Every student who walked in to Ms. Schwarz’s class got her full attention. She gave her whole self to everyone who asked for help. It didn’t have to be academic or even serious. There were so many stupid projects we put together that she jumped in on whole-heartedly. When the middle school’s mobile unit burned to the ground a few years ago, we held a funeral for it, complete with refreshments and a eulogy.

The gifted classes weren’t the only groups of students Ms. Schwarz helped. Several students throughout the years didn’t “qualify” as gifted, but she welcomed them into her life and opened her resources to them the same way she did for her actual students. We all quickly became this strange motley family of students and teacher. The friends I made in her classroom have lasted me past graduation. The lessons I learned in her classroom will last me forever.

Ms. Schwarz always taught the life lessons. She made you believe in yourself and to never doubt your abilities no matter what the world around you was saying. She wouldn’t take no for an answer under any circumstances, even if I was red-in-the-face mad or another student had just angrily thrown his inhaler across the room. As I look back on my K-12 career, I realize that Ms. Schwarz was the driving force behind who I am today. I know she had the same affect on her other students. I’ve spent the majority of this past week talking to fellow students of hers and we’ve all said the same things. It’s because of Ms. Schwarz that we followed what we wanted and became who are we are. She never gave up on us, and she believed in us more than we believed in ourselves.

It’s becoming hard to find the right words to say about this amazing woman who touched so many lives in her time here. There are so many memories Ms. Schwarz’s students have of her, and each one is bright and full. She was such a free spirit, always wanting to do something bigger and better than the year before. Ms. Schwarz was intensely creative, vivacious, and talented. She saw the same things in all her students, and for that we can never thank her enough. She is loved and will be greatly missed by all who knew her.

One thought on “Duct Tape and Diet Coke. For Ms. Schwarz.

  1. Kate says:

    This is a beautiful piece. It showed what a wonderful person Ms. Schwarz was and how much of an impact she made in her students’ lives. Even though I never knew her, after reading this, I feel like I have a good idea of the kind of person she was.

    Fabulous job. I’m sure she’d be proud.


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