Morristown West High School Speech/Debate teacher Suzanne Terry wanted to become an actress.
An interesting thing happened on the way to the stage, instead of becoming a performer, she became someone who trains them.
Terry has been practicing her talents with her West High students for the last 34 years, building a nationally recognized speech and debate program and changing hundreds of lives.
Her success with the students and the debate team at West High earned her the 2019 Boys & Girls Club of Hamblen County’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
She talked about a student very early in her career named Eddie.
“He walked through the door with his head down and was a larger young man,” Terry said.
Eddie had been teased by many of the students at West High.
“I could see in the way that he carried himself,” she said.
She sent Eddie to the office on a make-believe mission. She used that errand to address her students.
“I looked at every kid in that room and said, ‘If you make fun of Eddie in front of me, I will destroy you.’ I wasn’t joking,” she said.
Eventually, he started holding his head up a little more.
He also didn’t have a suit for debate competition, so she and her husband Steve bought him some clothes.
“Eddie went to every tournament, he had new shoes, he ate at the restaurants we went to,” Terry said.
Four years after high school, Eddie graduated from East Tennessee State University.
“Whether you’re a teacher, an attorney, a principal or someone making their way at MAHLE, find that Eddie and do that for him,” Terry said. “I’m so honored and the amazed at the recognition and the people who came before me. Thank you to the Boys and Girls Club I so admire what you do for children. It’s so important. I admire the community that supports it as well.
“I admire that I have two principals sitting at my table who love me most of the time. They would probably agree with Steve Terry that I can be stubborn. You have to fight for kids. That’s what the Boys & Girls Club is, and that’s what I’ve done for only 34 years,” she said.
Terry thanked Hamblen County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeff Perry for allowing the teachers to “do the things that we do.”
“We have big adventures, and sometimes they’re difficult,” Terry said. “The fact that you allow us to go makes it so much better.”
Terry took the attendees at Tuesday’s Steak and Burger Banquet held at First Presbyterian Church into her world of speech and debate.
“We write speeches, debate important topics, create amazing characters and go out into the world to present them,” Terry said. “What we really are is a family that loves each other. Matter of fact, someone from the state department came several years ago. I said ‘I’m going to keep my mouth shut because sometimes it gets me in trouble.’ I will sit, listen and be a good teacher.”
When the official went around the room asking teachers to say one word about what makes their room special, Terry said “Love.”
“I said that because that’s absolutely what we are,” Terry said.
Needless to say, the state official came to her room next where he was greeted by one of Terry’s Hispanic students giving a speech for him. After the speech, another student went up to the Hispanic student and hugged him and said, “I love you, man!”
Terry said that the kids in her program become part of something that is bigger than themselves.
“When that happens, it’s magic,” she said. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart. We like trophies, but we like being family a whole lot more.”