When I began trying to capture the experiences of Samuel Gomez as a Gentle Giraffe at E.K. Powe Elementary, I quickly grew frustrated. I took the project out of a desire to try to convey the experience of a young English as a second language student. Ths was compelling to me after a humorous summer as an attempted Spanish as a second language student in Bolivia. I felt blocked out and unable to communicate what I was seeing.
Eventually, the irony of that dawned on me and I realized that it gave me just a little, tiny, taste of the kinds of challenges Samuel would have experienced in his first weeks in an English environment. But it was this small taste of the kind of challenges Samuel faced that really opened my eyes to the incredible person he is. Everyday I was with him, I would see Samuel palling around with a different one of his classmates as if he had known them their entire life. Every class I would see him focus on and listen to instructions in a foreign language. Every challenge, I would see Samuel go above and beyond to truly excel. But even above that, every minute, I would see his huge grin and hear his silly giggle. Achievement in the face of hardship is an impressive story, but, far more exceptional, and inspiring, is joy and love in the midst of achievement and hardship. Samuel, thanks for showing me again how to live, laugh, and listen.