I grew up in Jerseyside, Placentia Bay. I went to St. Peter’s Elementary. It no longer exists, but at the time the principal was a man named Gerard Ryan. At the time I was living with some hard times at home and I guess I was acting out at school. I wasn’t what you would call a “bad” kid but I wasn’t making it easy for the teachers. Mr. Ryan didn’t judge me and allowed me to go on the school trip to St. Pierre, which I guess is equivalent to the kids going to Europe today. He looked after me and made sure I had fun and stayed out of trouble. That alone was something that stuck with me all my life.
It was at school where he made a difference that really affected my life and helped shape me as a young adult. I was being sent to him, the principal, on a regular basis because I don’t think teachers knew what to do with me. The first few times I was punished like everyone else, but one day Mr. Ryan asked me, “What is wrong? Is there something you need help with?” I broke down and cried. I told him everything that was going on in my life. I was so afraid that there would be fallout at home or it would be spread around the school but nothing happened. Mr. Ryan put his arm around me that day and told me he was happy I told him and that he would do what he could to help me. I never felt any fallout from my confession to Mr. Ryan that day. I don’t know if he spoke to other adults about it or not and I guess that’s the way it should be for children at that age. I know elementary school got a bit easier – whether it was because I changed, or teachers gave me a bit more room because of Mr. Ryan.
A few years went by and the school closed. I went to Laval High and Mr. Ryan became the French teacher. I struggled again in school and wasn’t an easy kid for any teacher. Eventually I grew up, and one day I was walking down the hall in school when Mr. Ryan called out to me. He waved me into his class and spoke to me for awhile and then he said, “Wow what a great young man you have become. It’s amazing what a few years can do.” That stuck with me forever, just like when I was a little kid with nowhere to go.
Today I am 44 years old. I have two college diplomas and four years of University under my belt (one course shy of my degree). After those accomplishments, I recently received my High School Diploma – which I think I am more proud of, because it haunted me most of my life. The funny thing is, after telling my mother, I couldn’t wait to tell Mr. Ryan. I haven’t been in close contact with him or anything but he just came to mind. I know he has suffered his own personal experiences but he has been the same man. I sent him a picture of my high school diploma and his reply made me feel just as good at 44 as it did when he spoke to me when I was 16.