Outside of your family or famous people, who was the first person you looked up to? One of those first people in my life was Beth Black. Beth was the dean of students at my high school and she continues to be a mentor, as well as a friend.
Beth is one of those people who just “gets it.” She’s wicked smart, extremely compassionate, a dedicated educator, and someone who tackles problems with enthusiasm and passion. She was the perfect leader for Conserve School and someone who I am so glad that I’ve stayed in touch with.
One of my first memories of Beth was during our sophomore year convocation. It was the opening ceremony for the school and we were all excited to take on year two of Conserve.
However, my name was listed as “Hick Hansen” in the program for the ceremony. I got a few ribs about it, and I was a little upset, but afterwards Beth told me, “If there was anyone that this happened to, I’m glad it was you.” It took me a while to unpack what that statement meant. Ever since than, I’ve made a point to tackle problematic situations with a sense of humor. It’s not worth it to lose your head over minor errors like that.
Beth always had a lot on her plate. She was dean of students, a teacher, a houseparent, and I’m sure she was putting out hundreds of other fires around campus. As teenagers, you really don’t appreciate what you can’t see, but knowing what I know now about Conserve, she did so much. However, you always knew that she cared. Whether that meant sitting down for a conversation, a night playing scrabble, getting baked goods, or just a hug, Beth always let you know that she cared. She was the houseparent to our sister wing of Bear and she took our loving teasing in stride.
The school lost an important, guiding light after Beth (and her husband Keith) left after the second year. While the students were hurt and frustrated, it took me a while to realize how painful of a decision that was and how much they struggled over it.
Beth and Keith were gracious enough to take me in a few years ago after I was in between apartments. They let me stay (rent free!) in their lovely old house. I couldn’t thank them enough for it. Before I left back for Minnesota, they invited me to spend the day with them near Plum Island. It was an ideal summer day filled with cold drinks, kayaking, and good food around a fire. I really enjoyed that day.
Beth is still an inspiration to me. She reminds me that tackling problems with compassion and humor is important. She makes time for people even though she’s an incredibly busy person. She takes on big projects that require big ideas, and she has the courage and fortitude to go through with them. I was really fortunate to be in contact with such a wonderful and brilliant individual at such a formative age in my life.
I don’t quite remember all of your graduation speech, but I do remember this line, “Life ... is a tale...Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” I’m probably missing a boatload of context here, but if the quote from Macbeth is true, you’ve done a helluva job proving it wrong.
Happy birthday, Beth.