A star for Lillian Tillman-DeWitt

This is a commitment.  And I undertake it every year.

The commitment is to find a way to nominate – and hopefully achieve induction of – various students and faculty from my high school, Street Academy of Albany (later Harriet Gibbons High School).

So far, besides myself (Hall of Fame Class of 2011), I’m pleased that the school has been represented in the Hall by Physical Education / Coach Milton Horne (Class of 2010), Teacher / Principal / School namesake Harriet Gibbons (Class of 2012), Teacher / Principal Edward Trant (Class of 2013), Principal / Teacher Don Prozik (Class of 2013) and Teacher Eileen Kawola (Class of 2015).

I’m glad that several of the school’s principals have been enshrined.

One more principal should join this roster.

Mrs. T needs to be in the Hall.

Lillian G. Tillman (DeWitt), from 1981 Street Academy of Albany yearbook.
Lillian G. Tillman (DeWitt), from 1981 Street Academy of Albany yearbook.

“Mrs. T,” for those of you who were not Street Academy students, was Lillian Tillman (later Lillian Tillman-DeWitt).  She expected you to do your best every single day, both in school and outside.  She was a teacher, a parent, an authority figure, a supporter, everything you could have ever wanted for a high school principal.

Nominations for the Class of 2016 are ready.  I downloaded the application.  Yep, still says that the choice options are “Albany High,” “Philip Schuyler High School” and “Other.”  No, I didn’t get a diploma from “Other.”  Man, I wish they’d change that form.

So on January 18, I submitted a letter of nomination, along with some newspaper articles and a photograph of Mrs. Tillman.  The photo came from our 1981 high school yearbook.

Here’s what I wrote.

Members of the Nominating Committee:

Please accept this letter as a personal request to nominate Lillian Tillman-DeWitt for enshrinement in the Albany City School District Hall of Fame.

Ms. Tillman-DeWitt has worked as a teacher and administrator in the Albany City School District for several decades, working with the Arbor Hill Elementary School, and later with the Street Academy of Albany as its principal.

From the start, Mrs. Tillman-DeWitt was a different type of principal.  She wasn’t the stereotypical image of a disciplinarian administrator.  She cared deeply about every student in school, and in many cases she was as much a parent to those of us who needed a parent, and an emotional support system for those of us who needed emotional support.  She cheered for us when we achieved our goals, and she encouraged us to stay strong when temptation lurked around every corner.

She was, for all intents and purposes, the perfect choice for principal at Street Academy.  She took no nonsense from any student (hats were not worn in school, for example), and at the same time, she stood along with students who were in need.  She didn’t offer handouts – she offered a way out.  She also encouraged and championed the teachers and educators at Street Academy to do whatever it took to make sure that students kept their “eyes on the prize” – a diploma and a chance at a better life.

Today, many of the students who attended Street Academy can point to the efforts of Lillian Tillman-DeWitt as the major reason why they are successful productive members of society.  It is said that whoever saves one life, that person saves the world entire.  Lillian Tillman-DeWitt saved many lives during her years as an administrator, teacher and student advocate.  I personally consider her to be a close member of my family.

It is with sincere hope that you please consider Lillian Tillman-DeWitt’s candidacy for the Albany City School District Hall of Fame.  Supporting newspaper clippings and documentation are attached.

I also asked several of my high school classmates if they would send a nomination as well.  Facebook connections are such a wonderful thing.

Okay.  Now we wait.

February.  March.  April.  No news yet.

So I figured I’d drop a quick e-mail.

And a few days later… I received the news.

The Albany City School District Hall of Fame will have, among its inductees for the Class of 2016… Street Academy principal Lillian Tillman-DeWitt.

That’s right, friends and neighbors.

Mrs. T has joined the Albany City School District Hall of Fame!

Cue the Clark Sisters, it’s time to celebrate!!

Listen, everybody.  This is an amazing, important moment.  The teachers and educators and staff at Street Academy (later Harriet Gibbons High School) saved thousands of men and women.   They brought the sunshine into our grey existence.  They made things possible that we had never even dared probable.

And Mrs. T was there through all the moments.  All the good moments.  All the tough moments.

And in the fall… she will be honored, along with various other Albany City School District students and educators, into the Hall of Fame.

And you know that the largest cheering section that night will be those who made the journey with her – those whom she helped along the way, those whom she assisted in time, those whom her motivations and energy still ring true in our hearts and in our souls.

This is a good thing.  This is worth celebrating.

You know what?  I want to celebrate some more.  Anybody got the Wings Over Jordan Choir handy?

Congratulations, Mrs. T.

We’ll see you in the fall.

For on that day, you’ll be glorified…

And your name will be emblazoned in the Hall.