One In A Million... a million people live, work and play in upstate New York's Catskills region. These are their life stories... in their own words.
Series produced by Kent Garrett
Photo editing and website design by Ed Kirstein
"We all breathe the same air"
Tom O’Brien Transcript:
Head over to the Roxbury Central School around lunchtime on any given day and you’ll probably find Roxbury District Superintendent Tom O’Brien having lunch and animated conversation with a bunch of third graders.
Here is his story in his own words:
I was born in Brooklyn. I lived there for about 10 years, and then my family moved to Long Island. Once I graduated from high school on Long Island, I left. I went to Maine for a short time, and then I moved west.
Q – What’d you do in Maine?
I went to college. Then I stopped going to school, and I just spent some time living up there, working seasonal jobs. Then I decided to go back to school, and at that time my life led me to Washington State, where I received my bachelor’s degree out in a school called the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. I spent some time out there. It was kind of an extended period of time where I went to school and worked.
Q – Well, how did you get the sort of education bug, or is it a bug? When did you catch that?
Well, I always enjoyed working with children, and my initial intention was actually to enter into law school. Then I had the drive to become a teacher. Then I decided to move back east, and when I moved back east I was not interested in moving back to the city.
Q – So, when you say drive to be a teacher, what is that about? What is that drive?
Well, I felt like I always had really good rapport with children, and I love learning. I decided to go into the education field, so I moved to New Paltz, where I entered into an educational program and started working down around the Hudson Valley and Sullivan County area and eventually decided to enter into a principalship. That’s how I ended up in Roxbury. I was offered the position as principal here in 2002.
Q – Has it been a good year for RCS or a mediocre year, or what’s your sense of that?
I think it’s been a great year. I mean, we’ve been able to once again strike that balance between running a good program and at the same time facing some of the fiscal challenges that we face. It just always amazes me as our graduates are about to walk across the stage on Saturday morning. They were in third grade when I got here. That’s one of the pleasures of being in a small school is that in bigger districts if you’re there, you don’t really know them. So a lot of those students, other than obviously kids that came here afterwards, I’ve known those children since they were very short and very young.
Q – Sending them out into the world, what would your advice be?
Well, I have a graduation speech.
Q – What are you going to say?
Actually, my theme this year, which is basically kind of the same thing every year, is I want them to be good people. Beyond their academic successes, I want them to be good people, and I don’t want them to forget about this little valley. One of the things that I find a lot of satisfaction out of is when they come back and they tell me their stories or their adventures. I’m actually quoting JFK, who gave a speech at American University in 1963. It’s called the “We All Breathe the Same Air” speech, and I cite that about the importance of understanding that all the actions that you commit can have a positive or negative effect on other people. That was kind of the allegory that JFK pointed out, so that’s my message to them: Remember that we all breathe the same air.