Dr. Jeffery Redding says the goodbye he wasn't able to at the end of the school year.
The dream I had as a teacher was to teach high school for four years — then become a college professor. Well, what ended up happening was that I fell in love with Winter Garden and its people. Walking into a multicultural classroom, from all different backgrounds. Some wanted to sing, some didn’t — but they instilled in me a desire to inspire them. As people and musicians.
Twenty-three years later, I still believe we can inspire the world through music. I couldn’t do it alone. I am so grateful for the choral directors who worked beside me over the years. The wonderful administration and staff who supported this young kid and believed in the dream of unity. From elementary school all the way through graduate school, I was lucky enough to have some amazing teachers, professors and colleagues who understood and nurtured the importance of unity.
Here was my challenge: How can we inspire throughout the world to exonerate race issues? I was attacked and ridiculed for being African-American — more than once. And with every attack, I had the amazing people of Winter Garden rallying around me, telling me that I was doing the right thing.
Four years turned into eight, eight turned into 12, and now here we are. Through the trips, laughter, and travel — I realized that with these people, I found my home. I realized I loved teaching, for exactly that. To teach. To teach — and to be received as a teacher — is one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given.
What makes West Orange so beautiful is that there was every type of student, the rich, the poor — skilled musicians and some with zero training — but all with beautiful hearts. From the first concert at the high school auditorium to Carnegie Hall in New York City, together we brought the ordinary to extraordinary. The love and support of this community has been incredible, and I will never forget it.
Some of the saddest moments I have had are students who have passed on. They all taught me about love, sacrifice, work and consistency. I feel as if I would be doing an injustice to these beautiful people if I didn’t take a moment to honor the importance of them in my life.
Hey Dr. Redding! What was it like to win the Grammy? I’ve been asked that a lot. Winning the Grammy — well, I was at a place where I served incredible students who believed in a unified vision to serve all. I didn’t teach for awards. But what it represented was what happens in Winter Garden. A community that supports the arts. Active parents who support their students. A community that supports our teachers. We have always been that “diamond in the rough.” We’ve had great people, great teachers and a great system in place. The Grammy helped spotlight our community on what we already knew — Winter Garden is fantastic. I might have received it, but we all won the Grammy. That Grammy is ours — I am so fortunate to have been in the situation. The amazing parade — all I can say is I am undeserving and feel so blessed and honored to have been in that position.
TO MY STUDENTS
We didn’t even get to say goodbye.
I wish I could hug every one of you. You all will always be “my kids.”
I hate that we didn’t get to say goodbye — have our concert, but know, I wanted what is best for you.
But I am sad.
Our year was ripped away from us. The loss of our trip, our spring concert, conducting you during Unity was all taken. And that makes me sad.
And I am sad because I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye.
We didn’t know with the last hug and daps would be any longer than a week.
We didn’t know our classroom, which was filled with music and laughter, would sit empty and quiet — and we wouldn’t get to come back to it.
I miss your smiles, hugs, laughter and even your ridiculous sense of humor. I miss listening while you work in sections — and seeing you succeed. I would give anything to tell you it’s time to focus.
To tell you I am proud of you.
That I love you.
Always know you will forever be a part of my heart.
This will be one school year none of us will ever forget.
TO GARDEN CHOIR
I have been honored for the past 13 years to be the director of the Garden Choir, and I long for it to be 13 more! I am excited and relieved that although I am leaving West Orange High School, I will still get to be part of the community of Winter Garden by directing the Garden Choir.
TO THE FUTURE
Now, I embark on a new adventure as the director of choral activities at the University of Central Florida. I will be taking what I learned from my experiences in Winter Garden and applying them to this new journey. I am proud and honored to represent this community as a Knight. Go Knights!