A day….

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Note: The following blog isn’t written for sympathy or anything other than observation and understanding about this thing we call life.

Today was a day. I guess if I were to put it in terms of good and bad, I would more than likely just shrug a shoulder and say, “it was a day.”

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I am always perplexed by the human condition. We all see things differently. As a small newspaper photographer most of my assignments center around telling mostly positive stories, around the place we live. We don’t have – knock on wood, keep your fingers crossed, pray – a lot of harsh news to report.

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Today’s assignment was to photograph the first day of school. We made my life difficult by having me hit four school districts instead of doing one focus story. Even though it was a lot of time and coordination, it was great fun. I had to talk my way into the schools (that can be difficult, but the principals and administrators in Venango County are great and in my year and half I have managed to build enough of a relationship with them that I was welcomed in and given great access so I could do what I do. Thank you all!)

It was a good day.

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I got to show the beauty of young lives progressing in their pursuit of knowledge and I witnessed wonderful educators dedicated to their abilities to pass on knowledge. Everyone has their own personality and story that might be shown in their actions and on their faces.

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Folks like Mrs. Rodriguez at Smedley Elementary School(above) who, if you look into her heart, just loves teaching these children. The teachers love of the young people in their care amazes me when I see it. (Let me tell you a good teacher is, in my opinion, cut from the cloth of saints.)

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I loved Mrs. Cashdollar’s 20 years of experience showing through in how she got her kids’ attention and got them to listen. (These were 5 year olds – 18 of them – and she had control.) I listened, photographed, laughed at what I heard and saw and it was a good day.

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When I say it was a good day, I mean, what I saw was just the beautiful slice of life that makes you realize everything does have hope. We have these great dedicated teachers working with young – nothing but hope in their eyes – young people to make this world a better place!

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Folks helping to shape the future. Young folks beginning to grab hold of the tools they’ll need to put it all into practice someday. Education, for all you can say about the methodologies, is still the same. Love to learn. Learning will get us to the next level.

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At all levels teachers are important. (Mrs. Ferringer above has 7th graders, easier on some levels, 25,000 times harder on other levels!) They give and, in some instances, against extraordinary odds – students’ disrespect, parents’ disrespect, administration’s disrespect, the state and the country demanding more and more. Teachers teach. They find those teachable moments and that is when gold appears to the student who finds in those teachers what they can take into their lives and grow. And a student’s growth is the reward teachers hold nearest to their hearts.

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And it is in the student’s curiosity that we find even more hope. These young people have it all ahead of them and many of them will grow up to do important work, and all of them will have an impact on the world around them.

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I’m not exaggerating. All of them will have an impact.

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Some will be artists. Some will be engineers. Some will run for office. Some will volunteer to fight free. Some will teach. All will have an impact.

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As I walked with these students today in four different schools I was thinking about how great it is to be young and looking at the world brand new!

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Looking at the world as a classroom, as something never experienced, as hope.

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As a safe place where the only thing that is important is your best friend and the people who have your back.

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Now, I know it’s not as simple as all that, and every person has their own story, and not all stories are rosy. But spend a day with dedicated teachers and young people and you get a feeling maybe this world and humanity has a chance.

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And then take what you learned from observing and question everything. Raise your hand and ask what you don’t know. Admit it, none of us really know a smudge of what there is to know. So admit you don’t know and ask. After you do, you might just learn. Isn’t that cool?

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Now I started out saying it was quite a day. And the experiences with these young people would be enough to call it quite a day.

But then the scanner went off.

Now, one of the worst parts of being a photojournalist is having to go into the unknown simply because it may be important. After my day of experiencing hope, it became apparent to me that this world full of hope has speed bumps and road blocks.

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Today, family and friends of a young man had their sense of hope dashed on a stretch of country road called Cranberry Rockland Road. A stretch of road hundreds use each day, but today it was a very sad place to be.

I don’t have all the details, but after I spent the day with school children on an annual rite of passage, the first day of school, I found myself wandering aimlessly along this country road trying to fine reason for my being there.

Oh, I have the standard answers, it’s news, people want to know and it’s important that we see this so we can perhaps take measures to prevent it from happening again.

But the truth is, being at these scenes, you are helpless and you feel like an intruder. Someone important died here today. I may not know him, but this person in their 19 years on this earth touched many people in some way. That I know to be true.

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I had read an article about a photojournalist who I have great respect for, her work shapes the way I do my work, she had left the newspaper she was working at and said that “news” was not her thing. That rang true in me. I think it’s hugely important that we cover news even when it’s unpleasant, but it takes a special person to cover tragedy and do it in a way that tells the story and is empathetic. I have no idea how this is done.

Today, after witnessing beauty in youthful hope, I was there on scene trying to make a photograph where there is no hope. There is no future other than paperwork from the investigation and grieving by those who lost someone very important to them. Family, friends and teachers who taught him.

How the hell do you put all that into a photograph of a crash scene?

RIP. I’m sorry this is my only memory of you and I know you were once those kids I took photographs of earlier in the day. And my thoughts are with you and your loved ones tonight.