It almost seems cliché to say it, but when I met Larissa the conversation felt like we just picked up where we left off. Had I known her before, it would have been four years ago when I moved away from the small rural town where she is a high school teacher. I am amazed we never met.
She knew all my friends. She knew my wife, and my eldest daughter who had her as teacher. “After you all left, I thought I wish I would have gotten to know the Macdonald Family better.” To think it would take so long, and so many miles traveled to for our paths to finally cross.
Larissa, unlike the others, was lucky enough to have not just one mentor, but two as she was starting out teaching high school history. More than just helping her navigate the education system, Larissa’s first mentor taught her how to mountain bike and jazzercise (something women did before they realized they could kick ass in Cross Fit training). The other taught her the delicate balance in life, “You can give it all here, but not so much that you can’t give it at home.”
The empowerment and wisdom she received early in life would become a passion she needed to pass on to other women. In a highly competitive world, backstabbing is common among women who are still fighting for a seat at the table. So, she created a program that brings women together as allies instead of adversaries. Needless to say, Larissa was over the moon with our new Vice President shattering the glass ceiling in one of the most visible offices in the world. “I was crying because she looks like me.”
Although I knew of her project, I had no idea that she is the oldest sister to two brothers, and collected Barbies to pass on to her daughter that she would one day have. As fate would have it, she met her husband while he was in the navy and together, they brought two wonderful boys into the world. As for those Barbies, well…
It was nice to talk with her, not just because it was easy but because I knew what the high school where she worked looked like. I could see the students and knew many of them. I grew up in a small town and I know what it’s like to be someone who just needed to break free in order to grow my wings. Larissa knows this too.
Larissa was from a smaller town in Michigan than Greenville. But it never really felt like home. Like me, it wasn’t until I moved away that I discovered who I really was. While I moved north to Washington, DC, Larissa moved south to New York, which gave her all the things her home state couldn’t. These were the places that formed who we are.
She constantly teaches her students to “Go do stuff. Get out and see the world.” For a teacher whose best part of the job is being with and connecting to her students, she is most proud when she sees them grow and thrive. “The kids that leave are the ones I stay in touch with.”
Teachers love to teach all sorts of things, but rarely do they tell you about themselves. Like how she would love to be the sixth Spice Girl who went by the name “Sunny Paris” Spice. Or how as a kid she related to Miss Piggy, the Muppet who was always seeking attention. But here’s a little secret for the small-town rumor mill: her first alcoholic drink was a wine cooler that her cousin gave her.
Truth be told, Larissa is more than a teacher. She is also a student of life. Fearless, bold, and courageous. Things you have to be to turn high schoolers into humans. I don’t know who I’d be if I had her as a teacher. But I did have a mentor of my own who inspired me to go and see the world. This journey my life is on, despite all its bumps and bruises, has led me here – living in a large town where I finally got to meet new old friend.
*The Lotus Project is built on the principles of sisterhood, inner strength, confidence, health, relationships, gratitude, and responsibility. Visit the website and see how you might be able to get involved.