“As class president, all year I was constantly thinking of what our class was going to leave as a Senior Legacy,” Class President Natalie Owens said. “I knew I wanted it to be modest, yet prominent so people would remember us long after graduation.
“I had a perfect example of such a senior legacy from past classes. My older brother was class president of 2004, and he organized the installment of the huge eagle statue in the middle of the rotunda with ‘Donated by c/o 2004’ imprinted on the front-a very modest example indeed.
“Nonetheless, with a great deal of prayer and brainstorming with my fellow class officers, it was decided that as the last official class to have Dr. Gene Rhodes, we should attempt to honor him while simultaneously leaving an impact of our own. That’s when the Educator of the Year Award was born.
“The plan was to have a big award ceremony that surprised Dr. Rhodes and also explain the significance to the rest of the school. With the affirmative support of my principal, I began planning dates and arrangements with PTO President, Dedra Vital. She loved the idea and ran with it far beyond my expectations. After much organizing and indiscreet communications, the special day had arrived.
“On May 6, the first day of Teacher Appreciation Week, the faculty had a meeting after school, and Dr. Rhodes was in attendance. What he did not know was that soon after the teachers sat down to their meeting in the lecture room, the seniors along with past graduates were gathering in the lunchroom. They were all previously contacted and asked to come and support Dr. Rhodes in a surprise retirement celebration.
“Many came from far and wide, including graduates from 1995, all the way from Florida. In the lunchroom we had signs for people to write their graduation year and hold up later on. From the class of 1995 to the almost graduated class of 2013, nearly 100 people came.
“We also made a huge card out of poster board and bundle with ribbon, so they all could sign it; it would be presented to Dr. Rhodes with the award. Once all was labeled and signed, we led everyone into the library where a red carpet was rolled out from the door. All the guests lined the sides and prepared everyone for Dr. Rhodes’s arrival.
“I interrupted the faculty meeting and with great desperation, requested that Dr. Rhodes be allowed to come outside for a moment. He thought something was severely wrong and asked me to sit down and talk to him about it. He kept assuring me that it was going to be ok, and saying “Let’s just sit and talk” but I told him the only way to explain was for him to follow me. We walked down the Common’s Hallway for a moment, and through the windows he saw the packed library. ‘Ohhh no...’ he said, and began to walk much slower. ‘Natalie, I’m gonna...’ I just said, ‘Come on...’”
“Everyone had already started cheering, so he had no choice but to come down the aisle. At the end of the aisle was the podium where I thanked everyone for coming and asked if anyone wanted to say something, a line that cued the speech prepared 1995 graduate, David. He spoke, as well as two past graduates of 2012, and thanked their good friend and teacher.
“I proceeded with the agenda by explaining to everyone the real purpose behind the occasion. I told them of how our class wanted to leave a legacy that didn’t necessarily stand up, but would forever stand out. The Earl Eugene Rhodes Educator of the Year award was a recognition to be decided and presented by that year’s senior class.
“Dr. Rhodes is more than a teacher to many, but went the extra mile to see his students excel not only in the classroom, but in life as well. He was leaving behind a well established reputation and example, and the Educator of the Year Award would recognize those who followed in that example each year. It was the seniors’ job to elect that educator, whether it be a coach, teacher, or administrator. Its purpose was to honor those who impacted that class like Dr. Rhodes impacted ours.”
Dr. Rhodes was presented with a glossed redwood bound book. When opened, on one side it said The Earl Eugene Rhodes Educator of the Year Award presented to Gene Rhodes by the class of 2013 Seniors and on the other side it had a clock.
“The books symbolized the teachings he gave as our English teacher and the clock represents the priceless time he gave us that made the real difference,” Owens said.