Las Vegas Sun

September 30, 2014

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Brian Greenspun tells how fitting it is that a school should be named for one who gave all for children

Sandra Thompson rocks!

That would be Sandra Lee Thompson Elementary School, which celebrated its official dedication Wednesday night. And that is what the first Student Council president, Monte Soderquist, said in his message for the Thompson Times. "I think everyone should join the Student Council and experience our school's motto: Service, Challenge, Excellence. Thompson Rocks!"

There is a reason the school, which bears the name of a woman whose adult life was given to the children, community and residents of Southern Nevada, has a special place in the hearts and minds of the people who work at the Las Vegas Sun.

From 1978 until the day she was tragically and senselessly killed in a traffic accident, Sandy Thompson was the conscience in chief for our city's and state's elected leadership when it came to all things children. And for the last few years of her life, as vice president and associate editor of the Sun, she gave meaning and meat to the cause of protecting the interests of and advancing opportunities for the youngest and weakest members of our society.

In short, Sandy Thompson was one of those very few people who recognized a need - perhaps one of the most important ones in our society - and put her energy, her passion and her considerably large voice toward the goal of making things right.

It is difficult in a city like ours - admittedly there are no other cities quite like ours - to grasp the enormity of the contributions that people like Sandy make. In the few short years since she has been gone, close to 400,000 people have moved here with no reasonable way to know who she was and what she did. To the extent that the state has coughed up more money for children caught in a bureaucratic maze through no fault of their own, we owe Sandy our thanks. To the extent that the rules of Family Court, the responsibilities of our foster care system and other agencies dedicated to bettering the lives of children have been improved, we owe Sandy our thanks. And to the extent that journalists new to Las Vegas have been imbued with the same passion that fueled Sandy's efforts to use her voice to make a difference, we all owe her our thanks.

While I sat on stage at the dedication ceremonies the other night, listening to a most dedicated and humorous principal, Brett Booth, talk about the incredible talent and determination of the Thompson schoolteachers and the enthusiasm of the wide-eyed students wanting to live the words of the school's motto, it struck me that this school and others like it are where we should all be , at least for some responsible period of time. For it is in the elementary schools of our community that we come to understand, again, why most of us do what we do , whatever it is that we do.

If you had been there, you would have been refreshed at the sight of the Cub Scout troop posting the colors and recharged by the sounds and moves of the Thompson Honor Choir. And, if you were lucky, your mind would not have wandered toward Carson City and the incredible disconnect any citizen would feel between what was happening at Thompson Elementary and what isn't happening in our state's capital.

As adults, our elected representatives are struggling to meet the needs of the fastest - growing state in the country. They are trying to adhere to slogans - such as "no new taxes" - that have no place and no meaning in today's world of traffic congestion, water shortages, health care crises and practically every other kind of challenge that they took oaths to resolve. They are acting like children. Children without a principal!

And in the Thompson multipurpose room, the children were living the meaning of the words "service, challenge and excellence." They were learning how to learn so when they are old enough, they will act like the kind of adults their parents, teachers and school officials have dedicated their lives to helping them become. Teachers don't teach timidity. Teachers don't teach false choices. And teachers don't teach children to shirk responsibilities in the face of personal harm.

But somehow we have learned those negative traits because we are witnessing them daily in the actions and inactions of many of our elected leaders as they struggle to find the money to pay for that which we need to continue to be the kind of state that leads the country rather than one that follows at the rear of the pack.

Why is it that people - most of them well-intentioned, at least at the beginning of their public service - turn into the kind of elected leaders that continually fail to lead, mostly because they don't want to hurt their chances for reelection?

And although I didn't think about the leadership debacle in Washington, D.C., or the inexplicable tragedy in Virginia while I listened to the children, there is plenty of reason to question that disconnect - from elementary schools that teach hope, hard work and responsibility, to outcomes of twisted minds and ideological arrogance - in the context of what Sandy Thompson's life and the people at her school are all about.

I suppose every generation, as it looks back from the perspective of advancing age, questions what went right and what went wrong to get us to where we are. And I suppose every parent or grandparent looks with hope and some envy at the opportunities that await those in the newest generation. It is, after all, the nature of things.

But, I would ask, why does it always have to be this way? Why are there only a handful of people in each generation, in each country, in each state, in each city who are willing to step up and out of their comfort zones or their self-imposed security zones to help make life better for others? Why are there so few leaders, so few people willing to take the chance on their fellow citizens - the chance that says "if you explain it, if you make the case, they will follow because they want to" - when there are elementary schools by the thousands teaching children to be just those kinds of people?

I am looking for the person or people who have that answer.

In the meantime, I am happy to help dedicate schools across this county that are imbued with the spirit of a life dedicated to that very principle. That was the life of Sandra Lee Thompson. And that is the spirit that will live on in every young person who is lucky enough to attend her school.

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