You may all be familiar with Richard Carmona - he is a Vietnam Veteran, former US Surgeon General who then became highly critical of the Bush Administration over its political interference with scientific findings, and is currently running for Senate in Arizona against Tea Party candidate Jeff Flake. However, Richard Carmona has also had an amazing interaction with my family that I feel I must share with all of you.
Back in 2003 when Dr. Carmona was Surgeon General, he gave an interview with the New York Daily News, where he discussed the people who helped him achieve his career success. In that interview, he singled out my late grandfather, Sal DiGrande. I never met my grandfather, as he died of melanoma skin cancer in 1977, 3 years before I was born. But before he died, he was a public school teacher in the Bronx at De Witt Clinton High School for decades. By chance, my aunt saw the Daily News article in March of 2003 and read the interview, where Dr. Carmona credited my grandfather and another teacher Ed Blau with encouraging him to avoid dropping out of school. She showed it to my mother and both of them were overcome with surprise and pride, and continued to watch his career from afar.
Fast forward to last weekend. I come from a family of strong Democrats who donate to several Democratic politicians, and this year with Dr. Carmona running for Senate, my mom sent him a donation online and attached a note saying how she is my grandfather Sal's daughter and she saw Dr. Carmona mention him in the interview and she wished him luck in his Senate race. Literally 5 minutes after the donation was made, Dr. Carmona personally called my mother to express his gratitude for the guidance given to him by my grandfather. He told my mother that his office forwarded him my mother's note and that he has been trying to track down my grandfather for years to thank him for teaching him the importance of education and for being a great teacher and that he owes a lot of his success to my grandfather's support. He didn't know that he had died and said that if he were alive he would want to put his arms around him in thanks. My mom was overwhelmed that a Senate candidate would take the time off the campaign trail to call her personally and, suffice to say, it affected her greatly.
So the takeaways from this story are that teachers can be among the most important drivers of success for their students, like for a disadvantaged Puerto Rican child from the gritty 1970's New York who rose to be the Surgeon General of the United States and hopefully a Senator shortly, and great teachers should always be appreciated. And also that Rich Carmona is an amazing individual and we need to do everything we can to help him win his Senate seat 3 weeks from now.