IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Darren Paquin

thumbnail (1)Darren Paquin was my senior year high school advanced composition teacher.  I learned an incredible amount from this great teacher and lady and still, today, no project, small or large, begins until I’ve fully outlined the project as she instructed and insisted.

So, continuing with 35 years of following Mrs. Paquin’s orders:

  1. Our first meeting, September 1980
    1. I was standing with the marching band alongside the old Elwood Junior High School gymnasium on North A Street waiting for the Elwood homecoming parade to begin.
    2. I saw our new principal, Gordon Paquin, walking toward me with a lovely, cheerful looking lady with platinum blonde hair.
      1. “Mr. Jolliff, I want to introduce my wife, Darren Paquin. Hon, this is our high school’s drum-major, Darin.  Darin/Darren, meet Darren/Darin.”
      2. “I absolutely love your name!”
        1. Those were the very first words spoken to me by someone who would later have a terrific impact on my life.
        2. We spent several minutes chatting and I recall her mentioning something about her grandmother and an endearing nickname they shared.
    3. After the homecoming game, I ran into Mrs. Paquin at the homecoming dance as she accompanied her husband who was chaperoning.
      1. We sat on a bench outside the cafeteria until the music made it impossible to hear one another.
      2. She sensed I had no desire to participate in the festivities and suggested we move toward the front office where we seated ourselves on another bench to continue our engaging conversation.
        1. We discussed music and I learned all about her singing career and will always remember her describing one performance where a fly intruded her opened orifice as she held a long note!
        2. We discovered we shared a similar sense of humor and despite our twenty-three year age difference, multiple interests that promptly formed a bond that evening.
    4. Over the next several years Mrs. Paquin and I stole many opportunities to chat during various school or community events.
  2. Mrs. Paquin begins teaching at Elwood Community High School, 1982
    1. The English department gained a dashing ball of energy in the fall of 1982, the start of my senior year.
    2. I had Mrs. Paquin first semester for her advanced composition class and it was a significant landmark in my academic career that would serve me skillfully and splendidly.
    3. After I submitted my first written assignment she pulled me out into the hallway before class began.
      1. She held my graded assignment up before me, hiding the grade, and I feared I’d not followed the assignment correctly.
      2. “This paper is outstanding.” I was relieved. “You’re not the typical high school writer. I am going to challenge you and I am going to push you. You may not always like my critical encouragement but I will get the job done and so will you.”
      3. And, it was one of the best semesters of my academic life; I’m chuckling as I think about that hallway meeting because my own students are challenged and pushed, and although they may not readily appreciate my critical encouragement, the job gets done!
    4. One evening while working my part-time job at the Elwood Public Library, Mrs. Paquin entered and we began one of our typical, familiar chats.
      1. [We had just begun the process of preparing for the big semester project, the term/research paper]  She looked around. “You are so lucky to have all these research opportunities right here where you work.”  I agreed.  “But you’ve got to go beyond what’s in this building.”
      2. And then I learned one of the most valuable lessons in life as a writer, historian, educator, performer, director, and person.
        1. She continued, “Everything you do, from here on out, must be treated like an iceberg. Do you know what I mean?”   I did not. 
        2. She grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil from the nearby card catalog and drew an image of an iceberg with 3/4 of the image below the line indicating the waterline. “Your work will always be the part of the iceberg others will see.  Three-fourths of your work – your research, drafts, editing, more drafts, more research, more editing – will be like the part of the iceberg no one will ever see. Sometimes, that three-fourths of the iceberg – your hardest work – will never be seen by your readers or audience. Accept it and respect it.  It’s all a part of the process.”
      3. I accepted and respected it.  And what is more, I’ve never stopped.
      4. Ten years later, my younger siblings could not believe she was still using several of my assignments and my research paper to show subsequent advanced composition classes.
      5. Mrs. Paquin pushed me and continued to raise her expectations to create new challenges for me in class and with my assignments.
      6. Thank you, Mrs. Paquin!  I am still following your instructions:
        1. Always, always, always outline your project.
        2. Research until you’ve “researched yourself to death” and then research even more; there’s always something new to find and something that will lead to something else informative and exciting.
        3. Write with the mind but always from the heart and your gut: passion.
        4. Outline… make adjustments as needed but don’t stray from the outline; it’s your roadmap that will eventually turn into your treasure map.
        5. If you find your writing is running into roadblocks go immediately back to your outline and find where you’ve gotten off track from the outline.
    5. The 1983 ECHS Variety Show
      1. I was having difficulty figuring out what to sing.
      2. Mrs. Paquin and I even discussed singing, “Do You Love Me?” from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.  I can never hear the song without thinking of Mrs. Paquin who introduced me to the song; this coming spring a group of my private students will perform FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at Centerville High School… 
      3. Mrs. Paquin decided the variety show should be my moment and not a shared moment.
      4. She had gone to the public library and located a book with a particular song she felt summed up so many things about me, “I’ve Got To Be Me” from GOLDEN RAINBOW.
        1. It was both my senior solo for the ECHS 1983 Variety Show and my audition ballad for The Ball State University Singers.
        2. I still have the same copy of music Mrs. Paquin gave me 35 years ago. [Photograph below]
    6. For our high school graduation it was decided our class would sing a song together; something different.
      1. Mrs. Paquin selected the song and taught the entire senior class during our commencement rehearsal.
      2. We learned Diana Ross’ “Do You Know Where You’re Going To?” from MAHOGANY.
  3. “…the smelly ones, too” 
    1. I had begun my second year of teaching when I received an invitation from Mr. & Mrs. Paquin to sing at their daughter’s wedding.
      1. Although we’d run into one another during my home visits from Ball State University, we selected a summer afternoon for a nice long visit where we would discuss music for Dawn’s impending nuptials.
      2. We sat in the back of their backyard at a table near the golf course.
      3. We chatted. We laughed. We planned. We laughed. We chatted more. We laughed more.
      4. We began discussing the realities of classroom teaching and still managed to laugh.
        1. I mentioned the newest edict from my principal stating teachers were no longer allowed to hug students.
        2. Mrs. Paquin explained that she could never follow that rule, ever.
        3. “If Gordon ever came into my classroom and said, ‘Darren, you can’t hug students any longer,’ I’d nod, ‘Okay,’ walk back into my classroom, shut the door, and hug every student. I’ll always hug students… even the smelly ones.”
    2. Through the years we would continue to chat about teaching, life, our dogs, raising teenagers, and always, there was laughter… and love.
  4. December 12, 2018
    1. After I graduated, Mrs. Paquin began the journey of fighting for her life.
      1. A pacemaker.
      2. An AICD (defibrillator)
      3. Two heart transplants; she was the first patient in Indiana to receive two hearts
      4. A kidney transplant from a former student.
      5. I am grateful to those beautiful organ donors who gave this much-beloved lady twenty-six additional years with us since her first 1992 transplant.
    2. Thursday morning, December 13, 2018, I received an email notice from my blog site that someone had commented to one of my posts from 2012.
      1. This is the article:  Darren Paquin: An Outline for Living
      2. I read the posted comment.
      3. I reread the posted comment.
      4. I got on Facebook and checked several pages and found nothing to corroborate the posted comment’s message.
      5. “This wonderful woman that you have profiled found her spot in heaven last night. As for me, she will never be forgotten. Taking a part of me with her, feeling empty. So much love for her and her family. Rest peacefully Mrs. Paquin.”
      6. The post was from the former student who had lovingly shared her own kidney with Mrs. Paquin.
      7. Within several hours, the news was confirmed.
  5. The next chapter...
    1. One of the brilliant lights of my wonderful educational and academic journey is gone.
    2. Mrs. Paquin is now an angel and since I do believe in angels and believe they do exist in our lives, I believe Mrs. Paquin is still a part of my life.
    3. While I am heart-broken Mrs. Paquin’s earthly journey has ceased, I will forever be grateful for what she taught me about writing, teaching, and life.
    4. Mrs. Paquin’s obituary
    5. So, Mrs. Paquin, may choirs of angels sing you to your eternal rest… and now, will you please excuse me – I have more research and writing to complete before heading to bed.
    6. Know you are loved…

About Wright Flyer Guy

Darin is a single adoptive father, a teacher, playwright, and musical theatre director from Kettering, Ohio.
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