Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Gina Benz (SD '15): Awards Do Inspire People

January 11, 2016

Gina Benz

Gina Benz (SD '15) sent us this letter in October 2015, shortly after receiving South Dakota's 2015-16 Milken Educator Award at Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls. We're sharing it with her permission.

Dear Milken Family Foundation,

One week ago today I was awarded the Milken Educator Award in South Dakota. That day will be a special memory for as long as I live, and it has given me an extra burst of energy as I continue in my life's work. Thank you for the award, thank you for creating such a special day, and thank you for your support since.

What I most want you to know today is that your work, your mission is fruitful. I may be proof. Just over 10 years ago, you began awarding the Milken Educator Award in South Dakota. In my mind, I can still see the article and photo in the newspaper about Karen Lukens, the recipient from my school district. When Karen won her Award, I thought, "Wow. That's something I would love to achieve." I knew the chances were slim, less than 1 percent. I also knew that even if I never won the Award, the striving itself would yield many rewards, some tangible but most intangible. Since that time, I've worked hard to be the very best teacher I can be for my students and my community. Sometimes the work has been overwhelming, tiring, and just plain hard. Most times the work has been deeply satisfying — a reward in and of itself.

I have not worked hard in this, my life's calling, to win awards. But awards do inspire people. Even more than becoming a Milken Educator, I have wanted to be a teacher like Karen Lukens. I have wanted to provide students with the skills they need to even have their dreams available to them. I have wanted to share books that inspire students to know themselves and others better so they might have more compassion and give more grace. I have wanted to create a sense of community in this big school that would mirror the small, rural school where I grew up. I saw that those desires were a part of Karen's mission, and I was inspired to be the very best teacher I could be for my students and for my community.

So thank you for providing role models, encouragement, and inspiration to teachers all over South Dakota and our nation. I am proof that the Milken [Award] not only recognizes teachers but inspires them. One week in, I don't know where this Award will take me, but I do know that I am excited to answer the call to "attract, retain, and motivate the very best talent to the American teaching profession."

With gratitude,

Gina Benz (SD '15)

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