BALTIMORE TEACHER ‘HONORED’ AFTER MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY IN THE CLASSROOM, PROFILED BY PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING WRITER ANNA QUINDLEN
Ely Vignarajah named latest Honoree in recognition series aimed at elevating teachers
WASHINGTON, DC - December 1, 2017
Ely Vignarajah’s path to becoming a teacher is nothing short of extraordinary. Having learned how to do math using tamarind seeds and to write the letters of the alphabet by drawing them in the sand, the Sri Lankan native made his way to the United States with a passion in his heart for teaching.
Mr. V, as he is known to his former students at Western High School in Maryland, spent more than half a century in the classroom doing what he loved: teaching.
“If I’d wanted life to be easier, I would have taken some other job,” Mr. V said. “Other places you work, you deal with files, folders. But you are talking about a child’s life here, and if you miss the chance, their life is just blasted. How can anyone say that is not an important job?”
This month, Vignarajah will be celebrated for his contributions and dedication to education and his students by Honored, a nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping great teachers in the classroom and inspiring a new generation of talent to pursue teaching.
In addition to a $5,000 cash grant, Mr. V had his story immortalized in a profile article by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen. The profile debuted at Honored’s kickoff event Nov. 30 at the Metropolitan Club in Washington, DC, in front of supporters and friends of the organization.
After a visit to Vignarajah’s physics classroom, Quindlen said of Mr. V’s story:
It’s about a man who has embraced teaching as a lifelong vocation, despite changes in country, culture, schools, mores, and who still talks about the profession with the dedication and ideals more often associated with the neophyte.
The circumstances Mr. V overcame in his life helped shaped the high expectations he has for his students in Baltimore City Public Schools who are growing up, as he did, in adversity.
“He used to say, ‘I teach my students like I teach my kids,’” says Ely’s son, Thiru, who served as deputy attorney general of Maryland. “I grade my students like I grade my kids,” Mr. V said.
As a boy in Sri Lanka, Mr. V loved helping his classmates with their homework, and after college, he spent time teaching at a Catholic school in his home country.
Not long after he began teaching, Mr. V was forced to flee Sri Lanka because of increasing hostility toward the Tamils as the country teetered on the brink of civil war. When he arrived in the United States with his wife and two small children, Mr. V had no more than $200 in his wallet and the desire to get back to work teaching. “Can you teach American children?” he was asked. “Let me try,” he replied.
This fall, more than 50 years after he began teaching, Mr. V retired from the classroom; at age 80, he was the oldest teacher in Maryland. His story, however, has not ended: After decades in the classroom and generations of students, his influence lives on throughout Baltimore.
Ely’s full story, along with photos with his students, is available at honored.org/honoree/Ely-Vignarajah/.
Honored is a nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping great teachers in the classroom and to inspiring a new generation of talent to pursue teaching. Each month, Honored shines a spotlight on a teacher who has changed the life of a single student. The Honoree receives a $5,000 cash award, and Honored partners with a world-class writer to tell their story. Honorees are selected from K-12 teachers of all subjects at public, private and charter schools across the country. Honored’s National Advisory Board includes luminaries such as the internationally best-selling author Michael Lewis, DonorsChoose.org founder Charles Best, Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp, and FEED cofounder Lauren Bush Lauren.
For more information about Honored, visit honored.org. For regular updates on Honored and our monthly Honorees, follow and like us on facebook.com/Honored.org, twitter.com/honored and instagram.com/honored_org.
Honored Press ContactChelsea O'Neal