Best Day Ever?

I’ve been fortunate to have a tremendous amount of support here in Bulgaria–from an incredibly helpful Fulbright staff, to a teacher mentor determined to make me feel at home, to a hilarious neighbor who has adopted me as his own son, to eager and welcoming students, to a steady stream of visitors from the states, and to enthusiastic Fulbright peers happy to discuss the many highs and occasional low of our experiences. All in all, that’s helped me avoid feeling much in the way of homesickness. This past weekend was a bit of an exception. It marked my five year Duke reunion in Durham, and I was thousands of miles away.

My Gmail inbox filled up with Duke friends coordinating hotel and transportation arrangements. My Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with pictures from events on campus that I longed to be a part of (BEER PONG IN CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM…ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!). Groups of friends sent pictures that I should have been in. My jealousy only grew as I thought back to the Duke Community that I love so much.

Senior housemates minus me

Senior housemates minus me

Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to stop feeling sorry for myself, because Tuesday night just might have been the best night ever. It was the night of my students’ charity concert and for many reasons, it’s a night I will never forget.

In the days and weeks leading up to the show, we broke a lot of rules. Typically when my school organizes an event like this, it is several weeks or even months in the making. Scripts are carefully written and edited, performers rehearse multiple times, marketing efforts start early, venues are booked well in advance, and directors, sound technicians, and lighting experts are contacted ahead of time.

We didn’t do any of that. Three of my students in 10A wrote our script the week before the show. Being well-rehearsed was out of the question as our set list wasn’t even finalized until a few days ago. We lucked into a director after our first choice refused to work with us because we were getting such a late start. The only reason we had lights was the individual efforts of one of my amazing ninth graders and her connections with a local theater. Our marketing effort could best be described as a last-minute scramble, and our first full rehearsal ended an hour before the show started. But when you set out to accomplish big things and give yourself an aggressive deadline ($25K in 25 school days), sometimes moving quickly is more important than being perfect…somehow my students figured out a way to do both!

I loved the idea that we were breaking the rules. Since arriving in Bulgaria, I’ve constantly heard “this is not possible” or “this is not the way.” We were trying to prove that, as the saying goes, when there’s a will, there’s a way. That also meant that a lot was on the line; and we were behind.

To be honest, when the curtains opened last night, I didn’t know what to expect. Things had been moving quickly in the days leading up to the show (they had to), and I wasn’t exactly sure how it would go. It wasn’t that I doubted my students or their abilities; I just knew how fast we had been moving!

But then, the next couple of hours happened…and they were truly magical. 10A and some key support partners had stepped up to the plate, and the result was brilliant. Unfortunately, our photographer and videographer need a few days to process content from the show, so I’m going to save the play-by-play for my next post. That being said, I want to share some of the highlights as they are moments that moved me greatly and that I will never forget.

In no particular order…

  • Going into the show, our hope was to raise 900 leva ($497). We were thrilled to exceed our goal, raising 967 leva (~$532), which was a huge success! Even more exciting for the campaign is that we had two donors willing to match our charity concert fundraising efforts. Becky and Roger Tuuk, extremely generous friends of my family from back when we lived in Michigan, posted a $500 match, and an anonymous donor opted to match the entire $532 amount. For those keeping score at home, that’s over $1,500 in one night!
  • A few minutes before the show started, a couple of ladies I had never met came up to me and presented me with a rose. “This is from the mothers of 10A,” they said. “Thank you for what you’re doing for our children.”
From the mothers of 10A

From the mothers of 10A

  • The performances of my students were fantastic. There are so many good stories here, and I promise to elaborate more once I have the photos and videos to do them a bit more justice. In the meantime, I included a few pictures below to whet your appetite. Suffice it to say that I’m unbelievably proud of all the performers and the amazing acts they put on.
Youngsters

Some youngsters joined us for the show, and they definitely stole the hearts of the audience. I was amazed by their voices and stage presence!

Desi dance group

Dancing group

Meli Mecho

Two of my stud musicians from 10A

One of my 8th graders KILLED IT with his beat boxing

One of my 8th graders KILLED IT with his beat boxing

  • As an additional motivator, I agreed to sing a karaoke song at the concert if we raised 300 leva on top of ticket sales in a box labelled “Embarrass Michael.” A few acts into the show, some of my students passed me a note letting me know that the box had 420 leva in it (later updated to 484 leva), and my fate was sealed in the form of Frozen’s “Let it Go.” In my three and a half minutes of fame, I made just about every mistake possible: I forgot the words, I was out of tune, and I’m pretty sure my voice cracked at least once in an ambitious pursuit of the high notes. Needless to say the crowd loved it. My students unexpectedly rushed on stage to sing and dance along and the song ended in a huge group hug. It felt magical in ways that I’m sure not even Elsa has experienced.
Let it go

The Elsa wig I made just before the show left something to be desired.

Let it go - support

Happy to have some support on stage!

Group hug

  • The concert ended with a big group singing of Michael Jackson’s “We are the World.” An extremely talented vocal group, Do Re Mi, got us started, but inevitably all the performers once again flocked to the stage to sing along. There was so much joy and energy in the room!
  • After the show, I joined about 10 of my students at the local pizza joint. As I devoured a large pizza (pre-show prep had caused me to skip a couple of meals), we celebrated the progress we’d made towards our fundraising goal and hypothesized where our school might one day be located and how the kids would benefit. It was fun to hear my students admit that when I first issued the challenge, they were excited, but didn’t believe that it was possible (that’s actually reason I wanted to do this project in the first place). With over $21K raised, it’s safe to say that nobody feels that way anymore!
  • Krassy rang my doorbell shortly before I left for the show, and gave me 4 leva–the price of two tickets–even though he and his wife Nadia could not attend. Shortly after that, he came back with dinner, knowing that I was busy preparing for the show and might not have time to eat. I’m going to miss that man so much.

DSCN2424

  • Many of my teacher colleagues and the principal from Peyo Yavorov Foreign Languages High School came out to support the cause! Regardless of whether they came to see me humiliated or to help build a school, I was extremely appreciative of their attendance. I was especially moved when the school’s chemistry teacher–a favorite of many students–thanked me for challenging our students to tackle something monumental and pursuing such a worthy cause.

In conclusion, despite feeling down about missing out on time with many of my best friends at my reunion, Tuesday night solidified that I was exactly where I was supposed to be this week.

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9 thoughts on “Best Day Ever?

  1. This is such a wonderful post! Some of the many reasons why I initially went into teaching are summed up throughout your summary of the event. The last minute rehearsals and scrambling are nothing when it comes to a successful show and the pride and talent your students have. Congratulations Michael, sounds like it WAS the best day ever!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Pencils of Promise – Silistra Fundraiser | I'm Balkan on Sunshine

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