The holidays are here, and as I visit with family and friends in Maine, I think about those who exhibit a giving spirit all year long. I am grateful for the gift of education given to me through the invaluable work of public educators.
I was a junior at Bangor High School when I grasped the empty glass vase in my hand and wondered if I could use the tools of calculus to determine its volume. My calculus teacher, Steve Godsoe, told me that integrals and derivatives are basic tools of calculus and can be used to precisely analyze complex functions.
Mr. Godsoe influenced who I am because he gave me the opportunity to explore my theory, experiment with numbers and prove that the empirical volume of that solid also could be found with integral calculus. Since that project, I have developed a deeper love of learning and a more profound appreciation for education.
I am an active-duty major in the United States Marine Corps, and the valuable lessons I learned at Bangor High School continue to influence me daily.
From serving a commanding general in the Anbar province of Iraq to training Marine recruits in boot camp, I now work in the Pentagon where I use applied math principles to improve resource allocation decisions for the Marine Corps. I am proud of my 14 years of active service.
I am just as proud of my upbringing in Bangor in the Bangor School Department, surrounded by an incredible community of teachers, coaches and counselors that believed in me.
The independent study project with Mr. Godsoe is only the beginning of a long list of educational experiences that have affected me. I remain grateful to Drew Milliken’s many colored pens to correct my grammar. I remember the hours of preparation for a debate tournament under our coach, Joe Pelletier. I developed my leadership skills in the Bangor High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program where I partnered with then-Secretary of Defense and Bangor native Bill Cohen to present an aspirations symposium to students. I learned about hard work and sacrifice from my swim coach, Phil Emery, who led us to three state titles. My keyboarding class yielded the highest practical payoff, and the many foreign language courses I took influence my written communication skills.
Taken together, my teachers understood some fundamental truths: students can always learn more; students learn in different ways; and passion, generosity and self-sacrifice are job requirements. The job of an educator, day in and day out, is nothing short of heroic.
Finally, it was my family who instilled in me the virtue of giving back. I took my propensity for mathematics back home where at the age of 17, and my mother 42, I tutored her in algebra so that she could meet the prerequisites to attend nursing school at Eastern Maine Technical College (now Eastern Maine Community College).
Education transformed our lives in ways we could not have imagined. My mother obtained her college degree, secured a better job and lifted our family to a better place.
My educational and military career afforded me exceptional educational, research and service
opportunities that I have used to shape the world in which I live. I studied mathematics at the United States Naval Academy. I earned a master’s degree in operations research from the Naval Postgraduate School. My thesis work on veteran homelessness has improved treatment outcomes in San Diego. I also worked with the Monterey County Fire Department in California to derive and implement an algorithm to optimize fire-fighting asset laydown and minimize emergency response times. I’ve been told that both projects have helped to improve and save lives.
Through education, my mother and I crossed socioeconomic lines and surpassed personal limits. We both achieved a piece of the American dream. I am encouraged to know the same story plays out everyday in the Bangor school system.
While I am a believer in the STEM curriculum, I also believe the complex challenges that face our nation and world require more than science and technology. I am thankful that my experience in the Bangor school system included a range of disciplines that challenged my capacity for critical thinking, civic participation, creative expression, analytical reasoning and leadership. My mother and I are thankful to have benefited from a supportive community enabling us to help others in our respective fields.
I am inspired that the Bangor School Department is committed to supporting all learners and prepare them for postsecondary education and entry into an ever-changing workplace, society and complex global environment. We must make it our mission to multiply opportunity for all and make quality education available to every member of society no matter if they love calculus or not.
David J. Cote, class president of Bangor High School class of 1997, is an active-duty major in the United States Marine Corps and founder of The Summit Project, a living memorial that pays tribute to fallen Maine service members who served after Sept. 11, 2001.