With the love and grace that he has shown so many others, veteran math teacher Larry Swanson was honored as the 2019 Lasallian Educator of the Year during today's La Salle's Heroic Vow Ceremony.
The award is bestowed annually upon an educator chosen by fellow staffers for exemplifying the spiritual and pedagogical ideals of St. John Baptist de La Salle. Swanson is in his sixth year of teaching at La Salle, and in his 40th year of teaching.
"Mr. Swanson, you walk through these doors daily with a purpose of teaching students math, but you have touched our hearts in a profound way that we crave learning and growth when entering your classroom doors," said Grace Elkhal '20, one of two students who spoke about Swanson during the schoolwide assembly. "...You push us forward, help us get past our hardships, and bear our burdens alongside us."
In a speech given with teacher Matt Owen '10, teacher Mallory Spanjer - who studied under Swanson as a high schooler in Corbett - praised Swanson for his compassion, faith, and dedication to inclusion.
"When Larry’s your teacher or your coworker, you feel like you’re being welcomed and loved and included like a family might do," she said. "I think it starts with little things he might say about his own family. In the middle of class, he might think of a great Christmas gift for one of his sons and take a minute to pull out his wallet and jot it down. Then he might go off on a tangent about a trip he and his wife Tracie are planning to St. Louis to see the Cardinals the next summer. Mr. Swanson wants to include you in his life and make you feel loved."
Students and staff applauded as Owen put the medal around Swanson's neck. Then the veteran teacher took the microphone and retraced his path to teaching.
He was 20. New to his faith. In love with the woman who would become his wife. And despite several semesters of study and an internship, no longer driven to become a civil engineer.
"My life was a hot mess," he said. "I had no idea what to do."
After consulting with his pastor, praying, and talking to "everyone we knew," Swanson changed his major and his college so he could pursue education.
"It became obvious that my whole life I had been a teacher without even knowing it," he said. "Helping my sister with her algebra, helping keep the defensive line (Chuck, Jack, Carl, Jimmy) on Roseburg's football team eligible to play, my engineering group in the library at college."
People, he said, "are to be about making our world better. That's the idea of vocation. I was gifted with the ability to teach. It would have been wrong for me to deny that gift and stay in engineering."
Swanson then looked out at hundreds of students, staff, and visitors at the assembly and encouraged every person to use his or her talents.
"Each one of you has gifts. Search for them," he said. "My prayer for you, like always -- and I know I repeat myself -- is that you can have the pure joy I have in teaching. I pray that when you are 62 years old, you can feel this feeling."