CAST Schools » CAST Schools » A Letter from Jeanne

I learned this week that my father has inoperable cancer. My father has not been well for some time, and so while this news was a terrible shock, I have been working to accept his decline for the past year, even while not understanding the underlying cause.


As part of my own journey to acceptance, I read the book, Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande. In it he writes about the importance of listening to a person who is aging about what is most important to him.


He writes: “This is what it means to have autonomy – you may not control life’s circumstances, but getting to be the author of your life means getting to control what you do with them.” 


My dad is the son of a Scottish immigrant and dock worker, and my dad set his own course by first earning a degree in chemical engineering and later a MBA. His father died young, of multiple heart attacks, before my parents married and my mom graduated from college. My dad started his career as a chemist in a factory, and worked his way up to the top levels of business in sales, in part due to his love of people, his gift for storytelling, and his generosity.


My dad patiently taught me so many important skills: how to drive a stick shift, how to save money even when you are earning very little, and to balance a checkbook. Even though some of those are skills I no longer use, they prepared me for a lifetime of knowing how to save money and balance a budget, and I passed the ability to drive a stick shift onto my own son.


When my father found out he had cancer, his immediate response was to tell us: “I have lived a good life, a satisfying life.” My dad has been saying this for a long time, expressing gratitude at all he has accomplished and the fact that he outlived his own immigrant father by 30 years.


Even as I struggle to accept my dad’s diagnosis, I am struck by Gawande’s vision of agency, of listening to people who are aging, and honoring what is important to them in their final years.


This vision is strikingly similar to what we envision for young people. We want to listen to them, make them feel seen and heard, and allow for them to co-create their learning experience, in an environment that is safe, nurturing, and hopefully inspiring.


Jeanne Russell

Executive Director

CAST Schools

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The Centers for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) Network is a tax-exempt organization as described in Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Service code. CAST Schools are partnership schools with a focus on STEM careers, project based learning and work-based learning. Key partners include public school districts, higher education institutions, and local employers from target industries.