Sunday, October 10, 2010

Interviewing My Inspirations: First Interview (a non-interview) of Leslie Leonard

When the idea first came to me to start a spot on my blog, interviewing women who have been inspirational in my life, one woman entered my mind. She has been, without a doubt, the single most influential force that has driven me to be the person I am today. I am not able to interview her today, however. Tragically, Leslie Leondard was killed in a car accident on February 20th, 2004. I still felt that I could not proceed with this series of posts without having a tribute to the most inspirational woman in my life aside from my own mother.

Ms. Leonard, as I knew her by, was my high school English teacher. She taught me so much more than grammar and literature. She taught me to stand up for what I thought to be right, to be the voice for those who have no voice of their own, and to always, always work hard to reach my goals and aspirations. She taught me to commit random acts of kindness, even when it seems like they are not noticed or appreciated. She taught me how to meditate, how to have peace of mind as well as giving me somewhat motherly advice about how to take care of my body. "Always wear a scarf!" she told me once as I was putting my coat on to go home. "The key to not getting sick, is to keep your neck warm!"

I remember one day she was late for class. Minutes after the bell had rung, and we were beginning to chatter about what to do with no teacher, she hobbled into the classroom on crutches, her foot in a soft cast. She had broken her ankle while jumping in rain puddles the evening before. "Take the time to jump in the puddles." she told us "Just make sure you do it carefully!"

One of the assignments that I remember very well, was to do something "out of the ordinary." and write down people's reactions. I chose to sit on top of my desks in each class rather than the chairs. The point of the assignment was to step outside of our comfort zone, gain a new perspective, and inspire others to stop and think if only for a moment.

One of the pieces of literature that she had scrolling around the walls of her room was by Henry David Thoreau:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.
I still often think of this quote that she taught with such passion. Live deliberately she would emphasize. Make what you do count. Each moment should be with purpose, each action should be done with careful thought. Truly have reason to believe that what you are doing in this very moment, is the most beautiful thing in the world. Anyone who's life was touched by this amazing woman would tell you that she inded live her life this way, deliberately without practicing resignation. She inspired more than she will ever know.

 I do have a list of questions that I would ask Ms. Leonard if she were here for this interview. It is hard to know that I will never be able to get the answers to them. But, those who know her will always remember warm fuzzies and random acts of kindness. Her legacy reaches far beyond those whom she directly touched, and her presence can be felt in every smile. So Captain, this one is for you, and all that you achieved before you were so suddenly and unexpectedly taken from this earth.

(photos are from Students of Leslie Leonard facebook page)


  1. I remember helping her move at the end of my senior year. A few of her senior seminar students had shown up and in true Ms. Leonard style she almost got herself trapped between the garage and moving truck, but instead of getting worked up she doubled over laughing about it.

    She also bought us all pizza and we sat in her empty dining room on the floor as she told us stories of the peace movement she formed in the eighties and other great inspirations that still remind me there is always a second in every minute to spare for someone that needs help.

  2. thank you for sharing! I remember those stories that she told.

  3. I had Leslie has a Senior Seminar teacher, but she was really more of a life coach. Stephanie and I did our community project focusing on senior citizens. Leslie was so inspired as nobody had ever focused on the elderly as one of their projects. We got to work and months later, we held our "Starlight Ball" for seniors. Leslie helped us work but most of all, she stood in the corner and was just beaming at us, she was so proud. It was then that I realized that Ms. Leslie Leonard was not just a teacher, she was a life coach and a mother to every one of her students. She put us first and I learned WAY more than just how to do a community project. She tought me that it's all about giving, helping, loving, sharing and so much more. Leslie and I carried our friendship on after I graduated highschool. Her stories, life experiences and giving heart have a huge part of the person I am today (and why I have a heart for humanitarian work). I will never forget Leslie Leonard and she is someone my children's children will know as a person who inspired me and influanced my life. I will always love and miss her as a friend.

  4. Thank you for sharing Jenn. I think that her senior seminar class touched even the students who were unable to take it. It really is a shame that no one took this on after her passing. I have contacted the school to see why this course is no longer carried on and they told me that none of the teachers could fit it into their schedules. Just one more example of how she took the time, that no one else was/is willing to take, to do something extraordinary.

    I remember your starlight ball, it was a huge success! I could tell just from looking at her how proud she was of you two