: Every Day is a Gift
will hold the Akin Family Chair from 2006-2010.
By Julie D. Lillis -- When she
was 32 and still nursing her
youngest daughter, first grade teacher Sue Harmon
felt a lump in her
didn't dismiss it.
Three days later she
had a definitive diagnosis: cancer, Stage II.
It had already spread to two lymph nodes.
opted for a lumpectomy, and soon after surgery began the arduous road that so many veterans of chemotherapy know.
took off the rest of the school year, shuttling to and from chemo over a six-month period.
thought, "'Wait a minute.
This was not on my to-do list.'"
But although that time was very difficult, Sue
was stunned by the support of the Hackley community.
"People were not afraid to make the gesture of letting me know that they were thinking of me [ranging from] parents, the students, the outpouring of letters, phone calls, emails, wishes, food...We could have fed every hungry person in the country...People wanted to help.
I was amazed and overwhelmed by this community."
"knew that I had to make a difference with this disease".
thought, "What am I going to do with everything that I learned?...And how do I give back to all of those people that did [so much] for me?
is proud of the work she
has done to raise money to fight cancer, and pleased with the awareness she
has brought to the disease.
hopes that she
can support women who are facing a cancer diagnosis, and inspire others to get mammograms on a timely basis.
"It's like this crazy sorority that you get into, that you never wanted to be in, but you're in it," she
says, furrowing her
brow and looking intensely at me. "I want to make sure that I do everything possible in my life [so] that our children-the students here that I've taught, my children, your children, anybody's children--don't have to go through what I went through.
It was not fun.
So I'll do whatever I can."
In addition, she
has helped countless women who face a breast cancer diagnosis.
Sometimes that means "taking some phone calls from women who are newly diagnosed," sometimes it means talking to perfect strangers or to women whom she
knows right here on the Hilltop.
I asked her
how many women have talked to her
about having breast cancer.
Three dozen, she
Off campus, not affiliated with Hackley?
"I'm a lucky one," Sue says.
"If my story can help anyone, that's a good thing."
Faculty and parents who know Sue
have watched her
efforts with admiration.
taught Diane Wheeler's daughter, Joanne, some years ago.
brings this same kind of passion and energy to her
work in the classroom.
Not long ago she
and I talked about her
years at Hackley
young students were off at music class.
Hired in 1993 as a Lower School intern, Sue moved swiftly into place as a first grade teacher, where she has stayed for 14 years.
Next year she
will shift to third grade-as with everything she
is characteristically enthusiastic, saying she
And right now?
"I just love first grade!
says with a big smile and a flash of her
light blue-green eyes.
"It's the most exciting year," she
says enthusiastically, leaning forward in her
always has a way of making everybody feel smart," says Alex Satty '06, who student taught with her one year.
"I absolutely love Mrs. Harmon
Sue's former students agree.
has always remained my 'favorite teacher' at Hackley
," Sydney Sanchez '06 told me last year in an email.
I still refer back to 'Allie the Alligator' (which was [about the greater than sign]) when I'm confused...I can still count on Mrs. Harmon
for a warm hug whenever I see her
, even after twelve years."
This warmth extends to all Sue does.
enjoys following her
young charges from 1st through 12th grades, a benefit of a K-12 school like Hackley.
"I keep in touch with my students.
I really don't let them go," she
"I'm in touch with their families.
I love to see them on the Quad," she
says, "these kids become part of you."
loves to see the work of her
likes to work in partnership with parents, recognizing that "we as teachers and we as parents are all here for the common goal: for educating these children, and having their children rise to their potential and meet their potential.
Teasingly called "DJ Suzy Sue
" by her students, says Alex Satty, Sue played "music for the kids during snack time or after they had finished an activity.
is so good at hunting for sea glass that she
can tell the age of it, and enjoys the "story" behind each piece.
Suddenly we hear the sound of shoes slapping against the floor.
First graders stream into the classroom, and make a beeline for Sue
trademark energy and enthusiasm bubble over as she
It is time to let her
"Come back and visit anytime," she
says to me, and I know she
As I leave, I remember what she
said earlier: "Every day is a gift."