Lufkin ISD teachers and staff celebrated the start of the school year during their convocation Tuesday morning at the Pitser Garrison Convention Center.
Mayor Bob Brown and state Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) gave welcoming statements and expressed their appreciation. Then board president Scott Skelton and Superintendent Lynn Torres addressed the gathered teachers.
Skelton asked the teachers to be the light for their students, to know they are students’ best opportunity, to have vision for they and their students’ future, and to have empathy for the students who come from a life dissimilar to theirs.
“If you’ve been in any relationship, you know that it’s not always easy to love somebody,” Skelton said. “Sometimes it takes a hug, and sometimes it takes some pretty tough love. But if you love them and you take care of them and you support them and you have vision for them and give them opportunity, think of the great things that they can do and the life they have ahead.”
“As you greet parents and students tomorrow, please know that you are the consistent, caring support for many of our young students,” Torres said. “They need you. They need you to believe in them, they need your guidance, they need a shoulder to cry on, they need to hear your laughter. They’re saying, ‘My teacher told me I was smart, so I was.’”
The teachers and staff then sang their campus songs, many of which were renditions of classic songs like “The Wheel on the Bus” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” Many teachers also were wearing a ribbon indicating that they were alumni of Lufkin ISD.
First-year teacher Jake Williams was wearing such a ribbon. He recently graduated from Schreiner University in Kerrville, and he returned to his alma mater to teach biology and IPC at the high school.
“It’s very eye-opening to see just how much the teachers are like a community,” Williams said. “It’s something I knew about when I was a student here, but I never really experienced until I got into this side of it. It’s definitely really cool to see that everybody is there for each other.”
Sheila Adams, executive director of communications and public relations, then introduced the guest speaker. Just as LISD has adopted a motto of Limitless Opportunities, so speaker Gary Guller has defied all limitations, Adams said.
Guller grew up in England and the U.S. When he was young, a guest speaker at a Boy Scouts meeting captivated Guller with a presentation about his rock climbing exploits. Guller asked this man to take him rock climbing while he was in town, and he agreed.
Guller said he continued to love rock climbing for years. However, when the unexpected happened, Guller’s life was put on hold. On his first international expedition to the three highest volcanoes in Mexico, he and two close friends took a 2,000-foot fall that resulted in Guller losing his left arm and his best friend. They laid there for four days before they were found.
“As a 20-year-old kid, I just wanted to be an adventurer, a climber for life, and for the doctor to come in and say, ‘Your arm’s never coming back again,’ that was a kick, a real kick,” Guller said. “Those next five years were perhaps the hardest years of my life.”
Eventually, Guller’s grandfather encouraged him to relight the fire he once had, and Guller began to relearn how climbing could fit into his life. After gaining some notoriety in Austin, an executive from a nonprofit organization asked Guller to speak about his exploits around the world.
Up until that point, Guller had never given a presentation before, but he agreed. However, he didn’t know that he would be speaking to a room full of men and women with various mental and physical disabilities.
After that presentation, one individual bound to a wheelchair raised his hand and asked Guller if he “would ever take someone like me to some of the places that you’ve been to.”
After pondering that question, Guller was inspired to gather a diverse group of 30 men and women, 14 of which had some type of physical disability, and together they embarked on a journey to Mt. Everest Base Camp.
The journey took 22 days and the help of many native Sherpa, but the group made it to the base camp.
“Most of these folks had been told no their entire lives,” Guller said. “But look where they are now.”
After they made it, Guller and a Sherpa named Nema made their attempt at mounting Everest’s summit. The journey to the summit takes around six weeks including multiple trips past a dangerous ice crevasse where 17 climbers had recently lost their lives during an avalanche.
Despite a scare with an avalanche and 100 mph winds, Nema and Guller made it to the summit. After taking in the view and many pictures, too, Nema told Guller to radio their camp.
“He hands me the radio, and I say, ‘This is Guller here. We are standing on top of the world. We have been successful,’” he said.
Guller became the first person with one arm to make it to the summit of Mt. Everest. He credits belief in himself and belief in partners like Nema as the reason he made it.
For more information on Guller, visit garyguller.com.