Teachers’ Day began as usual this year: we were told to gather for a special assembly as motivational speaker Jillian Haslam would give us a talk.
Little did I realise what a great impact this would have on me!
Impeccably dressed in crisp, tailored clothes and high heels, Jillian looked like those who give odd inspirational speeches.
Looking at her standing on the stage, mike in hand, I could never guess what her first words would soon reveal — an unimaginably hard childhood and youth, despite which she has risen to where she stands today.
Born in Calcutta in an impoverished British family, Jillian and her siblings were forced to take shelter on the streets. She grew up depending on charity from her teachers and neighbours.
At 17, she moved to Delhi and was noticed by the Bank of America.
Passing three exams and surpassing 250 girls, she was appointed secretary to the CEO.
Her attitude, she says, is what elevated her to that position and helped her reach even greater heights. A can-do attitude, humility and an eagerness to learn! “You can let yourself be changed by your circumstances, but refuse to let yourself be reduced by them,” she told us.
“Your attitude defines your altitude in life,” she said.
Then she repeated her favourite line: “You can fool the world and get pats on your back as you go on the path of life, but you will experience heartache if you lie to the guy in the mirror!”
She regretted the lack of recognition for teachers for their role in shaping a child’s character.
“There are pageants for Miss Universe,” she said. “But have you ever heard of a pageant for the soul?”
I learnt from her the importance of teachers, having the right attitude and being true to myself. For the first time I realised how privileged my friends and I are.
It was a memorable Teachers’ Day — one that would motivate me to take that extra stride to achieve the heights I thought were inaccessible.
The writer is a Class VIII student at Calcutta International School