One of the most influential educators in my life, Dr. Thomas Sobol, passed away this week. Tom was a Superintendent of Schools in the suburbs of New York City, a former New York State Commissioner of Education, and a chaired professor in the department of Organization & Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University. Tom taught a course on ethics and education law at Teachers College, Columbia University when I attended and he was also the commencement speaker for my graduating class. During that convocation he said, “Becoming moral in my view is the opposite of restraint and detachment. It requires passionate engagement with other humans, stepping into all of life's confusion and heartbreak and messiness, and losing one's self in something larger than one's self before the self can be defined."
In his courses, Tom talked about defining moments and how they serve as opportunities to shape us, to help us reflect and take a stand. Teachers College’s current president, Susan Fuhrman, in her letter to students and alumni last week, wrote “Tom's own defining moment came these past several years, as he endured, with remarkable dignity and grace, a paralyzing illness that confined him to his bed. Aided at every turn by his loyal and indefatigable wife, Harriet, he typed, with one finger, his memoir, My Life In School, which chronicled his path from a tough Boston neighborhood to Harvard and beyond.”
Tom was much loved and left a lasting, positive impact on thousands of children and educators. He will be deeply missed.