Remembering Bernard Harmon

This story first appeared in The Pastry Box Project.

Everyone, if they are lucky, gets that one teacher in their life that stands out above the rest. I was luckier than most. My high school art teacher, Bernard Harmon, was ten times the teacher I deserved and absolutely the teacher I needed.

My junior year of high school he called me into his office. He notified me that I had been chosen as a semi-finalist for a merit scholarship and would be flying to Miami for the finals competition. Our school had sent someone to the finals for the last ten years or so, which was a testament to his skills as a teacher. A large chunk of our year was spent preparing for the competition, working on our portfolio, answering essay questions. For most of us, this was our way to college. And everyone from our school who’d been selected to finals had come back a winner.

He sits me down and says, “I don’t want you to be disappointed. Of all the kids I’ve sent down there you’re the one I’ve been more unsure about. I don’t think you’re going to win, so just try to have fun.”

Mr. Harmon was like a father to me at a time when my relationship with my own father was not the greatest. He made me feel like I was capable of doing things I was afraid to, and had no problem taking me down a notch when I deserved it. I did not like disappointing him. And now he was giving up on me. I was angry. I was so angry I cried the whole way home that day.

I was still angry when I arrived in Miami. I was angry as I went through all the exercises of the competition. I was still angry when they told me I’d won. And I was still angry when I went back to school and walked into his office. His back was to me.

“I won.”

He didn’t even turn around.

“Of course you did. I never doubted it.”

Throughout your life you will deal with a multitude of different people, and while “Don’t be a dick.” is a pretty good baseline, ultimately those people will be driven by different things. Some of them will be driven by a need to be liked. Some of them will be driven by a need to prove others wrong.

Thanks to Bernard Harmon I know which one I am.