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Remembering Kalpna Mistry, Ed.M.'07

Although it had been a year since Kalpna Mistry, Ed.M.'07, left Appian Way -- her enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, and dedication to education made a lasting impression on the HGSE community.

On August 3, Mistry died while participating in a Fulbright-Hayes study tour in the Philippines. A graduate of the Teacher Education Program, Mistry worked as a teacher in the International Baccalaureate Program at Berkeley International High School, a small learning community focused on international studies in Berkeley, Calif.

This summer Mistry was visiting schools in the Philippines along with 10 other teachers and two directors from Sonoma State University, where she marveled at the similarities between the Philippine education systems and the United States. "I have caught myself telling my Filipino teaching counterparts to stay [in the Philippines] to strengthen their own system, but at the same time, as an individual with American privilege, I can't argue with people who want to leave for economic progress," Mistry wrote in a recent e-mail to several Ed School colleagues.

Although far from Cambridge, Mistry remained thankful for her days at the Ed School and positive toward her chosen career. "Truly, I just wanted to sincerely thank you for all your hard work and support during our program. The opportunities you granted me and your reassurance that I could serve as an urban public school teacher have been paramount to me making it through my first year of teaching," Mistry wrote. "My student teaching struggles and our intense class discussions have really helped me articulate my role as a teacher in the classroom and, more important, on staff. It's been an exhaustingly fruitful year."

TEP Director and Lecturer Katherine Merseth recalled Mistry as a wonderful woman who "profoundly touched and influenced everyone she met.... Her deep commitment to social justice, her infectious ability to make things happen, and her warmth and caring made her a leader at GSE," Merseth said. "Having had the privilege of working with her in the Teacher Education Program and working with her in my classes, I know that I learned a great deal more from her than she learned from me. She was an inspirational light in so many lives, including her students; her spirit will continue to inspire and glow brightly in the future."

The following is a tribute written by HGSE classmate and friend Inbal Alon, Ed.M.'07:

I met Kalpna in September 2006, the beginning of our brief and intense year at HGSE. It was in the first days of school, when a group of young adults behaves very much like first-graders: selecting outfits for the first impressions, observing quietly, and sensing the social order of interactions, trying to be remembered but not stand-out. It was at the first Voices for Africa meeting, a student group that for three years had organized an annual conference to highlight and discuss education issues in Africa. Were we up to the task of organizing the fourth conference? I remember my introduction being cautious, listing my previous connections to Africa, justifying to myself the involvement with the group, trying to receive acceptance. Kalpna introduced herself with a huge smile, "I'll help with anything," she said. She did not know so much about Africa, she admitted without any pretense, but she wanted to learn, and she wanted to share with others as she learned -- her students, fellow classmates, everyone -- so eager to learn and teach from the very beginning.

In time, Kalpna became an essential part of the team. She came to every meeting with energy and new ideas. She livened up the room with stories from her student-teaching experiences, with questions, and with a wide, kind smile we all grew to love and count on. She worked with another friend on a youth engagement project, making a short video to open the conference with youth's perceptions of Africa. We all wanted to portray the challenges alongside solutions and optimism, to confront the stereotypical image of Africa dire with despair. We named the conference Alive with Hope! And it was a hopeful day, with 180 participants who gave their Saturday to learn about Africa --  speakers sharing best practices and lessons learned about the connection between education, health, and human rights; an African lunch; an NGO forum for people to connect and interact; and even dancing to live West African drum music. We shared this amazing day as a team, a real team, where everyone contributed how they could, and it was an incredible feeling, the power of efforts coming together. After the conference Kalpna continued with enthusiasm, helping to organize smaller events, including a session on ideas for teaching about Africa. She was always bringing people together to learn from each other and improve the collective ability to teach others.

On a different day, Kalpna attended a workshop organized by another group I was a member of, Education for Global Citizenship. We organized a session about Global Classrooms, a program by the United Nations Association of Greater Boston with the aim of developing global understanding among students. I always wonder about these sessions; people listen, write down notes, ask a few questions, but outside the room, I'm not sure what happens. After the session, Kalpna asked questions about the program and how she could bring it to her secondary school. A few days later I put her in touch with the organizers of the program. That is how I will always remember Kalpna. She was never just learning, but always soaking in, with incredible thirst, all the opportunities around her. She never saw something interesting and waited passively to see how things work out, but rather took it upon herself to make it happen, to act. She made global classroom happen in her school and, more than that, with her guidance her students won the Massachusetts conference and were sent to New York for the national UN Model Conference. When I wrote Kalpna to congratulate her, she responded: "thanks sweets!  It was all you -- you planted the seeds.   Thank you for working so hard this year -- you impacted me and my students!"

We all work hard to leave the world a little bit better than we found it, and rarely do the results of our effort fold out in-front of us. Often, we carry on faith, that somehow, somewhere, in some complex hidden web of connections our kindness makes a difference. Kalpna reminded me to believe in the power of enthusiasm, dedication, and passion, that every day is an opportunity to impact someone in a way we can't even imagine and might never understand. We're like passengers on trains that cross each other occasionally and we get to wave, reach out, smile, and then we continue on our journeys, and often we don't see the ripples of our interactions. Kalpna was the true embodiment of one of my favorite quotations, author unknown: "I shall pass through this world but once.  Any good, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now.  Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again." Since Kalpna passed away, so many people -- her students, colleagues, classmates, and friends -- have left messages [on her website] about how she impacted our lives. We probably should have said "thank you" earlier, but I hope she knows how fortunate we all feel to have known her, to have been blessed with her energy.

Since we graduated from HGSE in June 2007, Kalpna and I exchanged one or two brief e-mails. I went to Uganda, and she went to San Francisco. It probably would have been years before we would have seen each other again. And yet, her sudden departure from this world leaves a tremendous hole. Somehow, knowing that she is not in California, being an amazing teacher and bringing issues of compassion and social justice to her classes, makes me feel empty. We walk around with empty spaces for those we have lost. It is hard not to fill these spaces with sadness, but in memory of Kalpna, I hope to overflow the space in my heart with inspiration. Kalpna described her profession as "a teacher (and forever a student)," and I will forever be guided her passion to understand and to share in all we do.

Thank you for being in my life -- a special thank you to Kalpna, I will always remember you.

A memorial service celebrating the life and career of Kalpna Mistry will be held at HGSE Saturday, August 30, from 10 am - 12 noon, in the Eliot-Lyman Room of Longfellow Hall. 


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