'To the teacher who let me be'
Ethan Miller didn't even know if his former teacher from Holliman Elementary School was still alive, but he still felt the need to thank her for the encouragement she gave to him to embrace his enthusiasm within their second grade classroom.
"As a little kid, I knew that what I was really good at was singing," Miller wrote in a post he shared to his Instagram and Facebook accounts in mid-February. "I knew that I was never going to be good at sports, I knew that I probably wasn’t going to be good at everything in school, but I knew that I could sing some notes. In saying that, I think that one of the best things that could’ve happened in my childhood was having Mrs. Gesualdi as my second grade teacher at Holliman."
Miller described Gesualdi as a "petite, calm, and caring woman" who planned out every day so that it could include time for learning, art, games and, of course, time for singing. He said that every morning Gesualdi would begin class by singing a few songs.
"And I ate it up," Miller wrote. "I sang the loudest and the proudest and I would lock eyes with her sometimes and I felt so safe and I felt so encouraged. Encouraged to be bold and proud."
One day Miller said he asked Gesualdi to let him sing for the class, and "the rest is history," he wrote. "It must have been every few months that I would do a small performance from Broadway shows for my class (mostly Phantom of the Opera). Then, she invited other teachers to come in, and one of them had me come and sing to her fifth graders! I thought I was a star."
Miller said that he owes much of his confidence today to this little act of encouragement from a teacher during his most formative time.
"I felt special. As a student, I never felt confident in my work. I always struggled internally with my confidence and my perseverance," Miller wrote. "But Mrs. Gesualdi brought out something in me that no one else could. A talent I had that no one else had. She made little 7-year-old Ethan feel like a star...I’m not even sure that she’s still alive. But if she is, I hope she knows how loved she was. I miss her dearly. I owe her a lot."
Elaine Gesualdi is indeed still alive. When she was reached for comment on whether or not she had seen the post dedicated in her honor, she said that she had been sent a link to the post by her sister, and she had trouble finding the words for how touched she was.
"I was so surprised," she said. "It made my day. It actually made my whole week. You don't think sometimes you make that much of an impact. To read that I was so happy and surprised."
Gesualdi said she taught for 32 years and remembers Ethan specifically from his days singing in the classroom.
"He was a wonderful boy," she said. "I enjoyed him sharing his talent with the other kids."
Gesualdi said that her sister expressed interest in getting the two together for a reunion in person, though nothing had been set up at this time.
Miller, now 19, has gone on since his elementary school days to become a music director of the Rhode Island Youth Theatre and is now a self-employed musician and producer.
“It felt very reciprocal of all the stuff I was able to do when I was little,” he said. “I got the chance to give back to the kids.”