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Life with Benny: Honoring a true hero

So many people are quietly working to make the world a better place, and we just don't thank them enough. Within our community, we have several awards events to honor people who are doing big things, but too often it's the people who are just living their everyday lives doing the incredible things who don't get any credit for it.

Last night, I had the privilege of joining a group of friends as we honored a true hero. The woman we honored is a somewhat shy, unassuming educator at Patrick Henry High School in the Del Cerro/San Carlos area of San Diego. She's been teaching for nearly 30 years, and our reason for honoring her was to make sure she realizes how many lives she has truly impacted for the better throughout her career.

For the last 14 years, Mrs. Candice Pauchnick has invited groups of LGBT community members to come to her classes and have an open, honest, question-and-answer session with her students about their lives. She has put together a weeklong curriculum to educate her students about tolerance, diversity and loving all people, and she calls the annual LGBT panel "the icing on the cake" of this lesson.

I've had the honor of organizing the groups that come to her classes each year since 2000 and am so impressed at how this woman wants no credit for her huge accomplishment. She continues to say she does it because it's the right thing to do, and that she just can't stand prejudice and intolerance.

Several years ago I asked Candy (she won't let me call her Mrs. Pauchnick!), "Did you ask the administration for permission to invite us?" She answered: "Why would I do that?" Whether or not her administration has always been in support of this, Candy continued to ask the panels to come back year after year to educate her students.

Following each year's panel, a package comes in the mail with a stack of hand-written "thank you" notes from the students. They are filled with honest thoughts on our presentation, and fill my eyes with tears knowing that we've opened someone's mind or helped someone get through a tough time.

At our small gathering last night, I brought together some of the nearly 50 speakers I've brought into her classes over the years to thank Candy for being an amazing educator and human being.

She wouldn't take any credit and insisted that it is us, the "brave LGBT community speakers," who are making the change in the world. We reminded her that we are simply telling our stories - she has opened the door for us and while doing so, has enriched the lives of thousands of students.

She says she still has a few more years until retirement so we look forward to many, many more panels in her classes, and hope that other educators in the district and beyond will follow this amazing women's lead!

Thank you, Candice Pauchnick, for being a true example of what an educator should be!

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Photo: LGBT community members who have participated on the panels in the past, including Jacinda Maheras, Benny Cartwright, Barbara Moreno, Kristy Salazar and Rick Cervantes, present Candice Pauchnick with a recognition from Kevin Beiser, vice president of the San Diego Unified School District board of trustees.