The Class of 1996 Rafael Laserna Award for Outstanding Teaching is selected by students from those nominated by the senior class. This award goes to the "teacher who has a lasting influence on his or her students and who inspires them to learn and to excel in the classroom and in life." In this blog post, Sam Lindner '18 shares his remarks from Commencement on this year's Laserna Award winner, Luqman Kolade.
I'm Sam Lindner, and I’m here to speak about one of the most important faculty members at this school. Now, Haverford has some great teachers, but what sets this person apart is the relationships he builds with his students. My mother is an educator, so I know firsthand from her how hard it can be to get students to engage with teachers on a deeper level than just school, but for this teacher it seems natural. When he taught me, his class was always my favorite part of the day because the things I would learn, the pieces of information that I would pick up, were invaluable. They might not have always been about the curriculum or what we were learning, but I always walked away from that classroom feeling like I was a more developed person. And that’s what this school’s really about. Not a GPA, not memorizing vocab words, but about becoming the best person you can be. Chances are you won’t learn that in a text book.
When I was sitting down writing this speech I had a hard time figuring out what it was that I was going to say, because I legitimately have so much to say about this person. I wasn’t just his student in my time here. I was also his athlete, and his advisee. Thinking back, I’ve probably spent more time with this teacher than anyone else in this school, which is pretty impressive considering I’ve been here for fourteen years. In that time, I’ve seen this teacher at his worst and at his best, on his bad days and on his great ones. When I was writing this, I tried so hard to pick one special moment that we shared that encapsulated his being, and the moment that stood out was one that shouldn’t have.
His class was always my favorite part of the day because the things I would learn, the pieces of information that I would pick up, were invaluable. I always walked away from that classroom feeling like I was a more developed person. And that’s what this school’s really about. Not a GPA, not memorizing vocab words, but about becoming the best person you can be.
It was about this time last year and our 4x100 relay team had qualified for Nationals. This was great, because we were the best team Haverford ever had, but it also meant that we had to keep practicing after school ended. This sounds like it would have been annoying, but truth be told, it wasn’t that bad. My teammates and I all enjoyed each other’s company, and we always had interesting conversations with each other during practice. This particular day was hot. I mean, the type of hot where you run a lap and have to take your shirt off because it’s soaked with sweat. The workout this person gave me was different from everyone else’s, as I was also preparing to run the 400 meter hurdles at Nationals. Hurdle workouts were notoriously difficult, but this one was something different. This one was 350 meter hurdles by 3 in spikes. I know that not everybody here knows track jargon, but just know that at the end of the workout, I could not stand. I was on the track sitting, panting, and my coach and my teammates came over to me and started stretching. I don’t know if it was because I was super dehydrated and my brain was a little fuzzy, but I just remember feeling this overwhelming love for the people surrounding me, and I felt it reciprocated.
He genuinely wanted the best for each of us and it seemed almost joyful for him to help us get there. And in that one moment, stretching, joking, laughing, I remember thinking to myself: that’s the type of man I want to be one day.
With my teammates the feeling made sense. We were in the best shape of our lives, feeling invincible together, but with our coach the feeling was something different. My love came from a place of knowing that he didn’t have to be there. He could have very well said “You guys want to go to Nationals? Sign yourselves up and let me know how it goes,” but that isn’t the type of person he is. After a long year of teaching and dealing with us difficult students, he spent his first taste of free time that summer on the track so that we could compete to the absolute best of our abilities. On top of that, he had had a baby a few months prior to this. That didn’t stop him from spending time with us though. He would bring his six-month-old child with him to track practice and leave his stroller in the shade while we ran. All for us. He genuinely wanted the best for each of us and it seemed almost joyful for him to help us get there. And in that one moment, stretching, joking, laughing, I remember thinking to myself: that’s the type of man I want to be one day.
And I guarantee that each of the men sitting behind me can also find at least one moment like this that they shared with this man. Because the person I shared my moment with wasn’t just him as the track coach, nor was it him as the teacher, nor the adviser. That was who he is as a person. Without further ado, Justin Meyer and I would like to present the Rafael Laserna Excellence in Teaching Award to Mr. Luqman Kolade.