Peggy White’s family, friends and colleagues pulled off a surprise retirement party in her honor on January 11. The gathering at Cedar Knoll restaurant brought together former Walt Whitman teachers and students, as well as current teachers and principal Craig Herring — all there to celebrate the career of a beloved teacher and mentor.
“White as so special and meant so much to everyone,” said Matthew Johnson, an assistant principal at Whitman. “[She] meant so much to the school.”
Former students and mentees took turns sharing fond memories and posing for pictures with White, who admitted to being a little surprised by the outpouring of love.
“I was trying to fade away and slip out the door after my retirement,” White said.
The impact she had
Fading away was not possible for a woman who meant so much to so many in the Whitman community. Although White graced the halls of the Parkers Lane school for the last time on December 21, completing a 27-year career as a science teacher, her impact still resonates.
Over those 27 years she touched many lives, including Johnson’s — who respected her not only a fellow faculty member, but also as a former Whitman student who once looked up to her.
“She created an environment in class where everybody loved her,” said Johnson, who graduated from Whitman in 1997. “It was a warm, welcoming feel.”
White served as a role model for Johnson because her approach. He took every opportunity — like many other Whitman students through the years — to spend time in her classroom.
“She is special. That is coming from me as the lens of a student,” Johnson said. “I wanted to get into education and hang out [with White] in the classroom.”
In addition to her position as a science teacher — one who occasionally donned fantastical masks and costumes to engage the kids as a mad scientist — White also volunteered after school as a mentor in the Women of Vision and Purpose mentoring program at Whitman.
Two of her former mentees, Adriana (Monterroso) Corvalan and Susi Callas, both 2010 graduates, echoed Johnson’s sentiments and added their own memories.
“Science is hard. But she made it easier to understand,” said Callas. “Also, I’m an ESL [English as a Second Language] student. She made things easier for me to understand.”
Callas said White’s mentoring after school was a time to cherish. White would take the girls bowling or on trips to amusement parks and pumpkin patches.
“She would take a group of us to the library and spend time with us. We had talks about life,” said Callas, who has kept up with White through the years. “The [girls in the] group were struggling. Her words helped motivate us. ‘Keep striving, keep working,’ she said to us.”
Corvalan shared many of the same feelings. She’s known White since the 8th grade, and calls her teacher, mentor and realtor, after she helped Corvalan and her husband buy their first condo.
Corvalan described White’s approach in the classroom as positive and motivational. One time, Corvalan said White heard her talking nonstop in class. Rather than make a big deal about it, White walked over and whispered to her: “What is a proton, what is a neutron?”
After Corvalan graduated from Whitman, White kept up communication with her, sending cards for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, and Christmas. Corvalan didn’t always respond to White’s friendship, but was grateful it was constant. Corvalan remembers White asking her in college “What are you going to do next?”
Corvalan was later touched when White wrote a letter of recommendation to help her get a job. Though she didn’t get the position she had applied for, Corvalan was still grateful.
“She will invest time in you,” Corvalan said.
Busy in retirement
White is quick to say “I miss my kids in the classroom,” but is thinking carefully how to best use her time in retirement. One of the first things she plans to do is go hiking by herself along the French Camino de Santiago in France and through Spain.
“I want to do this medieval pilgrimage for spiritual reasons,” she said.
White is as driven post retirement as she was in the classroom for many years. During the summer, White plans to work with charities that help children, including the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (CASA).
“I want to put [my] energy and help the most people in the most effective way,” said White.