Sitting in front of hundreds of students and parents at St. Mary of the Mills School's end-of-the-year awards ceremony June 13, third-grade teacher Peggy Walsh could barely hold all of the flowers and gifts she had been given.
Yet the gifts and praise for the retiring teacher kept flowing.
"When Mrs. Walsh walked through the doors [in 1985], God graced us with a wonderful gift," said Chris Brant, a kindergarten teacher at the school. "If anyone wants to see good teaching, go to Mrs. Walsh's classroom."
Walsh, a third-grade teacher at St. Mary of the Mills for 29 years, had announced that she would be retiring at the end of the school year, which was Friday.
Students and staff made sure that she would have a grand send off, surprising her Friday by wearing orange and blue, representing the Mets, Walsh's favorite team; presenting a proclamation from Laurel Mayor Craig Moe; songs from students, and maybe most important, a lot of hugs.
"I was just amazed at the outpouring of love that was going on," Walsh said of the ceremony as she worked on cleaning out her classroom for the final time. "Then it really did hit me that I was leaving and that I would not be coming back to teach. The tears started because I felt emotional that this was a connection for so many years, the school, and that door was really closing."
Longtime Home and School Association President Diana Guzman, who has served as the organization's president for 10 years, was also honored at the end of the year event.
"Woman of faith"
Walsh, originally from Queens, N.Y., attended Catholic schools throughout her childhood and grew up wanting to be a nurse.
That was until she first remembers seeing a friend's foot bleeding when she was about 11 years old.
"I just couldn't take it," Walsh said laughing.
From there, Walsh credits one of her high school teachers, Sister Loretto DeSales, with inspiring her to become a teacher.
"She really was a witness to her faith," she said. "Since we're in a Catholic school, I try to let the children see my witness to faith and help them grow in their faith."
Ask anyone at St. Mary of the Mills what Walsh's strengths in the classroom are and they'll immediately refer to her faith.
"She is a woman of faith and ties it beautifully into her teaching," Principal Jim Pavlacka said. "She embodies Christ the teacher."
Walsh most recently taught religion, math and language arts at St. Mary of the Mills, although she previously taught social studies and science as well.
Her philosophy is that each day brings with it a new chance to learn.
"When you see them excited about learning, that renews your commitment and makes you want to come back the next day," she said.
For music teacher Joanna Chiarella, Walsh has a way of making everyone — students and teachers — feel loved and valued.
Chiarella, who held a mentorship with Walsh before becoming a teacher at St. Mary's herself, said "you can't help but want to be more like her."