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I knew Robin Jackson before I stepped into her eighth-­grade English class at Park Junior High. My parents went to school with her brothers, Curtis and Corey Tolle, and a second cousin of mine had been close friends with her in childhood.

They were all happy to discover she’d be one of my teachers. As I experienced many times in the years to come, anyone who ever spoke of Robin did so with a smile on their face.

My cousin told me stories of their afternoons spent in her bedroom with a pile of records in front of them, cheerfully squabbling over their favorite Beatle or Monkee. My parents spoke of her enthusiasm as a former Bulldog cheerleader. Whether one knew Robin or not, the news that she was a former cheerleader never came as a surprise.

I had, at that age, only a passing interest in the music of the time. Most children of parents who grew up in the ’70s are exposed to quite a lot of classic rock, and I was in the throes of my obsession with bands like The Beatles, Queen, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin.

Needless to say, Robin and I hit it off immediately.

English was already my favorite subject. The fact that Robin’s method of teaching it was equal parts Shakespeare and Mick Jagger made that 45 minutes the highlight of my days.

We examined the deeper meaning of songs that defined a generation pushing back against societal norms in times of widespread change, songs like “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, The Beatles’ “Revolution,” “Ohio” by Neil Young.

We learned metaphor from Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, syntax from The Who. And, as Robin knew, students who previously would have professed themselves uninterested in or unable to understand such things began to love them because it was set to music, and while words have power on their own, music can make them immortal.

I had the extreme good fortune of extending that blissful 45 minutes through two school years as Robin moved up to teach freshman English, as well. During my sophomore year at Artesia High School, I’d occasionally collect a few fresh, hot batches of Burger King fries and spend my lunch hour at Park talking music and literature with her.

But she soon made her way to AHS, as well, and we were all better introduced to her other passion: the Bulldogs.

Dancing through pep assemblies, waving pompons down the halls, cheering over the PA system, Robin was a whirling dervish of school spirit, and during a time when some teens are apt to deem pride in an institution uncool, she more than convinced the majority that there were few things cooler than being a part of something with a history, something simple, pure and fun.

There was not going to be a good time to say goodbye to Robin, not even when doing so became an inevitability. But I can think of no more appropriate day for her to have left us than Homecoming. The parade that day was the funeral procession she would have preferred. The alma mater being sung in her honor prior to a big win at Bulldog Bowl was something she’d have loved as much as any hymn.

I was lucky to have known her so well, luckier still to have had her as an influence and inspiration in my life. I am a better writer and a better person for it.

Thanks, Mrs. J. There’s more I want to say, but I couldn’t say it any better than John and Paul.

“In My Life”
The Beatles

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone, and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all
But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life, I love you more
In my life, I love you more