The Haze of Wow

I know it’s Wednesday when I see Matt in the far corner of the classroom hunched over a book.

He always gets right to work, no time to waste. He and his mom ride the train, walking to and from the station. Matt’s mom, Nicole, doesn’t drive anymore due to a stroke that left her legally blind. She explained they budget carefully for those train tickets, and Matt never wastes a minute when he gets into the classroom.

He doesn’t have a minute to spare–because attempting the GED is a big undertaking. Illinois changed the test 2 years ago.

Right now, it’s harder to get a GED than it is to graduate from high school. To pass the GED you must know biology, chemistry and physics for the science section as well as algebra, geometry and trigonometry for the math. Illinois high school students don’t need to master all those subjects to graduate.

Years ago, PRC provided GED tutoring to dozens of students every year. By comparison, Matt is the first student in two years to attempt any part of the test. He is taking the test section by section–and so far, passing with flying colors.

The same week he passed the first two sections, he was admitted to a job training program. That program will have him trained and ready for a career-oriented job by summer.

The day Nicole called me to tell me about the test and Matt’s admission to the training program, we both shrieked with excitement.

“This has changed our lives,” she said. “I can’t even tell you. It’s like a miracle.”

Wow. I had goose bumps.

Of course, the minute I got off the phone, I ran to tell everyone in the office. I may hear the news first, but these moments are never because of me, alone–none of the work at the PRC happens without all of us.

Sharing the happy moments is part of the fun.

Which is how Sarah, our Development Director, heard Matt’s story. She asked me, right then, if they would be willing to speak at a donor luncheon.

I felt a little nervous to ask. I mean, public speaking is the number one fear of everyone everywhere, right?

Here’s what Matt’s mom said, when I asked, “Sure. I would be honored to speak.”


Time goes by, and we get closer to the event. The next time I see Nicole, I have an invitation to the luncheon on my desk. She glances at the invitation and says, “Oh! It’s at Harry Caray’s, that’s perfect! I can walk.”

I hear her words, but it takes a minute to sink in….

This woman accepted the invitation knowing that she would have to figure out a way travel to the event, knowing that those precious train passes or cab fare would be needed. She accepted without a moment’s hesitation. And seemed thrilled to discover, she could walk to a lunch on a December morning, to tell her son’s story.

For a long time that morning, I sat in a haze of Wow….

(It’s hard to work in the haze of wow.)

So I told my officemate the story to see if that would help. She’s a total softie. Her eyes welled up with tears, and you know? That helped me clear the haze a little.

Next, I go around the corner and tell my chief the story: “…walk to the lunch!” The chief chokes up too, tears shimmering in her eyes.

I’m feeling better, but I’m not done, oh no, the power of the wow is still on me!

I walk down the hall to tell Sarah, because she started this.

And I make her cry, too.prc hands

Now that half the upstairs office is verklempt, I can finally go back to my desk and get a little work done.

Matt and Nicole have offered their thanks many times. I’ve tried to explain it’s been my honor and privilege. This work allows me to stand in the presence of people who remind me everyday: hang on. Try again. People are good.

Wow! is waiting right around the corner.


Julie W. (from a speech given for the PRC 2015 Holiday Luncheon)

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