With education the topic of my two most recent articles, it is more than appropriate that I pay belated respects to a truly committed educator, Janet Ebert. Dr. Ebert loved and devoted much of her life to teaching and students and music, all in equal measure.
My musical leanings in school were choral rather than instrumental; thus, I never had Janet as an instructor. However, we knew each other well enough to combine our support for a young lady we had in common: a student who excelled in my German classes and in Janet’s private flute lessons. Subsequent phone conversations usually occurred when I provided German translation for one of Janet’s projects, conversations during which I almost always learned more than I helped – Janet was a font of information!
I often describe myself as a project-oriented person. I usually knit a big bunch of children’s hats at Christmastime. And I will always be proud my dream of international travel for educational benefit remained a major school project for lots of years.
I could, however, never hold a candle to Janet’s versions of ideas, dreams, and projects. The items she authored listed in the county library’s online card catalog, her dedication to the TBDBITL, her DAR service, private lessons, years of accomplishment at UU scarcely scratch the surface of the projects she undertook and carried to fruition.
I came away from any interaction with Janet feeling almost breathless by her zeal for life, her unquenched curiosity, and her belief in the innate goodness of others. In our last conversation, she marveled at how special Champaign County is as a place called home by so many exceptional people – she was hinting at another project, I could tell.
Dr. Janet Ebert lived life on her own exuberant terms, making plenty of dreams come true. She, with so many projects completed and those still on the drawing board, will certainly be missed.
As I transition to another woman who continues to live life on her own terms, representing to others that no dream is too big, let me mention a quirk of mine few in Buckeye Nation could ever comprehend. Last week while OSU fans anticipated “welcoming” the Fighting Irish to the Shoe, I remained glued to ESPN for every game, set, and match of the final Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year: the U.S Open.
I accidentally started watching this hardcourt tournament during my early years of teaching – I remember setting up my gradebook and lesson plan book over Labor Day weekend to a background of bouncing tennis balls. I recall how fascinated I was by Chris Evert, dressing and behaving in such a prim-and-proper manner, while she stood behind the baseline and whacked the heck out of the ball – aiming at the absolute corner on the other side of the net.
I have been a Grand Slam fan (including the Australian Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon) ever since. I particularly enjoyed watching Steffi Graf, Pete Sampras, and Roger Federer. Of course, I saw the Williams sisters play many a match – and win lots of them.
I have not yet seen King Richard, featuring Will Smith’s portrayal of Venus and Serena’s father determined to coach his girls to tennis stardom – I actually watched it happen. These youngsters from gritty Compton, California, with beads braided into their hair, played an exciting brand of tennis – and never uttered a negative word postgame. Graceful Venus was originally intended to excel, but feisty Serena eventually surpassed her beloved older sister.
Serena set herself apart by developing a court style that suited her, not traditional expectations. She threw herself into every game, grimacing and grunting in tune with her exertion of effort. She was just as dramatic in her on-court wardrobe choices, raising more than a few eyebrows with distinctive outfits, many of her own design. And was I impressed following one of her three victories in Paris when she addressed the crowd there in fluent French.
The life of a star athlete is never as easy as it seems – what with injuries, slumps, and pressure complicating things in ways the public could never understand. I highly recommend the recent Vanity Fair article in Serena’s own words. She describes the extra barriers she faced as a Black woman blazing trails through what was for so many years, in the words of the McEnroe brothers, “a white man’s game.” She stepped up with Billie Jean King and others in addressing women’s issues including narrowing the gender gap in standards and prize money.
And yet, it is motherhood that has pushed Serena across the career finish line – plus daughter Olympia’s wish to be a big sister. At the age of 40, she has so much of life yet to treasure, but never enough as a mom.
I am the furthest possible person from Serena Williams in accomplishment, talent, personality. And yet, I felt such strong kinship with Serena when she concluded the Vanity Fair article with these words to herself: I am more than grateful for you having carried me to so many wins. I’m going to miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis. When I substituted the words “taught school” for “tennis,” the tears began to flow.
I guess that I, and maybe Serena too, should heed this well-worn advice: Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.