More than 100 members of the Mission High community gathered Monday afternoon to honor Kathleen Cecil, an English teacher they remembered as dedicated, sarcastic and brutally honest.
Cecil suffered a brain aneurysm during her third-period class on the first day of school. She remained on life support and died two days later. She would have turned 62 next month, and had taught at Mission High for 12 years. A couple of students at the memorial said they remembered Cecil standing at the door of her classroom on the first day of school. Others recounted “Cecilisms” they remembered hearing from her as students.
“So should I write the referral, or should you?” was one of the Cecilisms students wrote on posters for the memorial, held in the school’s auditorium. “It’s only high school. Life goes on,” was another. Sheets of Cecilisms now line Mission High’s hallways.
”She was passionate about teaching. She created lesson plans every day as if it were her first day of teaching,” said Principal Eric Guthertz.
Tom Wishing, Cecil’s husband, agreed. “Days at Mission didn’t end at the end of the school day. She took students home with her in her heart.”
Tough love was a common tactic for Cecil. “In ninth grade, I was a bad slacker. She kept pushing me to do my work,” Alvin Blanco-Ramirez, now an 11th-grader, said at the memorial. “If she wasn’t there for me through all these years, I’d probably still be in ninth grade right now.”
Brianna Frank, also in 11th grade, echoed the sentiment. At the memorial she described being upset with herself for her initial reaction to Cecil. “I couldn’t believe I was mad at a teacher who tried to help me with all her might — and I mean all of it.”
“Thank you for trying to help me.”
Frank then turned to Wishing, as well as to Cecil and Wishing’s two sons, Blair and Daril Cecil-Wishing, 25 and 29. “I appreciate everything your wife and mother did for me. She’s not going to be forgotten.”
During the memorial, Wishing asked students to hold on to Cecil’s message, and elicited laughter from those who knew her disposition. “Give yourself that extra push. Ask yourself, ‘What would Ms. Cecil say?’ She would probably be right. At least she would think she was right.”
Many students attested to Cecil’s caring nature. When they were going through family problems, she listened. On one occasion she delivered extra-credit work to a student’s home after the student had undergone surgery. The banana bread she baked for her students from the fruits in her garden was insanely popular.
But it wasn’t just students who were moved by Cecil. “She had such a presence. But she’s not gone. I know she’s here with us,” said Derrlyn Tom, an 11th-grade chemistry teacher who plans to set up a scholarship in Cecil’s name.
Outside the classroom, Cecil was an executive board member of the union United Educators of San Francisco, belonged to a peer-support group called Teachers 4 Social Justice, attended writing retreats and was three years into writing her own book, titled “Ascension.”
Cecil wasn’t afraid to let loose, either. Blair Cecil-Wishing described a time he and his mother were at a rock concert together. “For one old gal, she could rock better than anybody.”
Starting tomorrow, room 213, Ms. Cecil’s classroom, will continue instruction with a new teacher.
A poster reading “I Pledge to Get at Least a 3.0 in Honor of Ms. Cecil” hangs in the school’s main hallway. La Kenya Burke-Ray, an 11th-grader and former student of Ms. Cecil, was the first to sign the vow. “I’m going to commit to that just for her. I want her to see me graduate. I know she’ll be watching us when we cross that stage.”