Congratulations to Jo Meleca-Voigt, 2016 GTA Golden Apple Award Winner. The Text of Jo’s Acceptance Speech is below.
I’ve had a while to think about what I wanted to say today, yet it’s hard to focus an 18 year career in a few words. Then, on Sunday morning, I was awakened from a deep sleep at 5 am. Unable to fall back asleep, I turned on the tv and watched in horror as the events unfolded in the massacre in Orlando. After that I wasn’t feeling much like writing comments, let alone celebrating. Those victims were mostly at an age that they could have been my students when they were in middle school. As an advocate for the LGBT community, I am frustrated that just when it feels like progress is being made, the threats to our community seem to get worse. Yet, the outpouring of support has been incredible. Monday evening there was a vigil where it’s estimated that 500-600 people came together to remember and grieve. Reflecting on everything has given me a much deeper understanding and appreciation for one simple thing … togetherness. At that vigil we were stronger together. Our lives are richer together. We support each other together. We share ideas together. We make each other better together. We are stronger together. Yet sometimes we forget that there is another word for togetherness … that word is UNION. As teachers we tend to spend a lot of time as the only adult in a room. We don’t tend to be together. But the union is founded on the very principle that together we are stronger. Together our lives are richer. Together we support each other. Together we share ideas. Together we make each other better. Together we are stronger. The union is not the office on Mt. Read Blvd. and what happens in there. The union is every teacher being stronger together than we are alone. I grew up in a union family. My father is a retiree of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen and my mother retired from United Food Workers and was an early member of the buttonholers union which is now UNITE HERE. I grew up knowing that the union is what allowed my hard working parents to raise us in such a safe and secure environment. I am married to a teacher who is also her building representative and active in the Hilton Teachers Association. That is why this award is so much more meaningful to me than any other honor I have been given. It represents my deeply held conviction that organized labor is the backbone of a strong America as well as my belief that how we educate our youth will determine how America goes forward. Together we are stronger. And when we can educate our youth together, they will be stronger. This award represents so much more to me than I can even express. It is not an award about what I do alone in my classroom, it is an honor about how we work together, as professionals, as a union, as educators, as a family. So, I share this golden apple with all of my colleagues and family members today. Knowing that without the love and support of my wife Christine, my parents Frank and Marisa, my sister Patty and brother Frank and their spouses Ray and Maura and my nieces and nephews Gabriella, Nicolas, Michaela and Michael and my niece-by-choice Layla, without my extended family and friends, without my colleagues, none of this would be possible. And a special mention to Jason Cooney. Jason is the hardest working union president I have ever known, and I have known a lot of union presidents. You are upstanding and dedicated. You genuinely care about the hundreds of members that you represent and we are lucky to have you at the helm pulling us together. I know I started on a somber note, so I want to revisit it with hope. I visited a MOSAICs class at Arcadia High School a few weeks ago. If you aren’t familiar with the MOSAICs program and classes, become familiar with it. It is a class developed and taught by Sally Brothers and is now expanding to other buildings. I went there to discuss the fight for marriage equality which was a history lesson for them. Their responses and questions inspired me. All of the hard work we have done to help the next generation of Americans to be more accepting and open and motivated to social justice is working. Keep the faith. Because as Martin Luther King Jr said “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.” If we keep pulling on that arc together, we will continue to make this world a more just place. Thank you.