That collective adolescent sigh you're hearing is the sound of schools opening across the country this week. Trading boogie boards for backpacks, the sadness that greets the end of summer is replaced by cautious excitement for the new school year and the hope of new friends and experiences. At this point, teachers have already been busy for weeks buying supplies and finalizing lesson plans before their students arrive.
One lesson in particular has been in development since December 14, 2012. It's embodied in the grand opening of the new Victoria Soto School in her hometown of Stratford, Connecticut. The lesson was interrupted on that horrible day at Sandy Hook Elementary School almost three years ago when twenty students and six staff members were inexplicably taken from us in a hail of gunfire.
Interrupted, yes, but far from ended.
Vicki's heroism on that fateful day was part of an unanticipated curriculum she wrote, along with five of her colleagues, even as she sacrificed her life for that of her students. Her selflessness not only survived this temporary interruption, it blossomed into something that continues to inspire. Her family took on that lesson plan and ensured her voice was never silenced.
Vicki's teaching lives on through the Vicki Soto Memorial Fund, a charity that endows scholarships for aspiring teachers that's already awarded over $20,000 in educational scholarships. It lives on in the books her foundation donates to needy classrooms or neighborhood lending libraries. It can be heard in the laughter of children at the Long Brook Park playground created in her honor. It thrives amid the "Victoria Soto Volunteer Award" created by the Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters to honor her prior service.
Vicki's beloved pink flamingos adorn almost everything associated with these endeavors. This couldn't be more fitting: throughout the centuries, flamingos have symbolized beauty, balance, and grace. Those are exactly the characteristics that best describe how her family has managed to create so much good from such horror.
"We do these things because we're spreading Vicki's memory," explains Mathew Soto, Vicki's younger brother. "It's a way to thank everyone who's helped us along the way."
Now, most appropriately, her lesson continues inside the school that bears her name. The tiny desks are lined up in neat rows, awaiting Vicki's latest set of students. Every room features rows of short green chairs, glistening in the sunlight, facing the lone teacher chair up front.
Every teacher chair is pink.
As a teacher myself, I can think of no better legacy than the amazing lesson Vicki continues to teach through the efforts of her family and friends. It's a lesson on the enduring power of love across all time and circumstance. Her story does not end with how she died; it lives on through the impact she continues to have in the lives of children everywhere.
Her classroom has only gotten bigger over time.
For more information on how Vicki and her family continue to make our corner of the world a better place, please visit vickisotomemorial.com.