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Merkel: Sowing the seeds for generations

Señora Merkel had one final wish for her seniors on Thursday.

“May the seeds that I have planted over the years bloom into a passion for what you love to do.”

Life for Señora Merkel, as she has taught her students for 26 years now at Charles Henderson High School, is about passion, learning and culture; about pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. It’s about dreaming, experiences and living.

Those are heady lessons to learn in a Spanish class, but Señora Merkel is not your traditional teacher; and her classes teach more than simply the mechanics of Spanish.

Just ask Katie Hawkins Beall, the guest speaker at Thursday’s Spanish Honors Banquet, an evening during which Merkel recognizes the students who have shown exceptional skill and leadership in her Spanish I, II, III and IV classes.

She has an impressive resume that includes degrees in Spanish and English literature, a master’s in public administration with a concentration in national security, service in the U.S. Air Force as an intelligence officer and, now, teaching at Troy University and being a wife and mother to 2-year-old Noah with a second child due in July.

She credits her success, in part, to the path “that Señora Merkel put me on early in my high school career.”

The two first met nearly 20 years ago at an international students event at Troy University, where Beall’s father is chancellor. Beall was 10 years old at the time, and “we realized we were kindred spirits.”

The years since then have been filled with a relationship that has grown from teacher-student to friendship. “Señora Merkel has been a second mother to me for two decades,” Beall said unabashedly.

That loyalty and friendship with former students is a rare gift for teachers, yet Señora Merkel seems blessed with a stream of former students who echo the same refrain, from doctors to former Air Force officers to teachers. She sets her standards unapologetically high, and students surprisingly strive to reach them. Her results are undeniable, from the students who are “head and shoulders above the others” when they come to college, according to Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr. to the students come good Samaritans, who while still in high school, stopped at a wreck on U.S. 231 to assist emergency workers as translators working with the victims. She teaches her students about globalization; about understanding that their actions and lives are interconnected to a larger world; and to respect and embrace other cultures.

If we could bottle, manufacture and sell what is uniquely Señora Merkel, well, we wouldn’t have to worry about proration, would we?

We can’t, of course. It’s all the experiences of her life: a mother who insisted that her child was to be “cultured” and set about instilling in her as a youngster a hunger for knowledge of other cultures, of the world and of learning; a husband she jokingly refers to as her very best Spanish student but more seriously admits is “the soul behind my smile; and it is, undeniably, each student who has crossed the threshold of her classroom over the years.

When she began in 1984, “I really thought I was just filling in until they could find a Spanish teacher,” she said. “I had no classroom, no piñatas, no signs … I just moved around.

“But these students stole my heart and turned my life around.”

Two of those students from her first classes were on hand Thursday for all the awards. Today she teaches their children, fitting for a teacher whose legacy is based on timeless ideals.

Señora Merkel is, after all, sowing those seeds in a new generation.

Stacy Graning is publisher of The Messenger. She can be reached via email at stacy.graning@troymessenger.com.