‘Til Day Is Done

This post is dedicated to the class of 2014 graduates, their parents, and our staff.

Mark Schroeder, Director of College and Career Readiness sends out a word of the day each morning. If he had to send out a few words today, I think it would be the words that so many of us have been using all day. Love. Inspire. Blessing.

I must start by paraphrasing Ben Norton, valedictorian of Texas High School’s class of 2014. Ben encouraged every graduate to find a career that he or she would love, work hard at it, and be sure that it in some way helps other people. Ben gave the best valedictory speech I’ve ever heard. His speech was encouraging and humble. Ben spent more time praising his classmates than he did acknowledging his own accomplishments. And it was such a funny speech! Every single person in the church was inspired. You can always feel when a room is inspired. There’s an energy and buzz in it.

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Kristen Hall, salutatorian, was awesome as well. It was the best salutatory speech I’ve EVER heard. She was poised, encouraging, and appreciative of all that has been done for her by the staff at Texas High. I shouldn’t start listing adjectives to describe Kristen because none of them would give you an idea about the profound impact she has had on my life and the lives of others. What a classy lady she is! I am honored that she acknowledged me in her speech.

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Graduates, do you know that every time you wrote one of those senior letters, you helped a teacher or administrator finish the day and come back energized? Every time you thanked a teacher or administrator today, you made that person feel like what we do IS appreciated. You speak about how we inspire you, but you inspire US. You say you love us, but oh, how we love YOU. You say you were blessed to have us as teachers, but we were blessed to have YOU as students. You taught us just as much as we taught you.

On behalf of all teachers, thanks for the hugs, visits, gifts, kind words, and letters this week. Marissa, Vernicia, Jordan, Josh, Aimee, and Cortlandt, thank you for honoring me. Thank you Lincoln, Josh E., Ashton, Brennan, Aaron, and Jordan for the letters.

Here’s what you all have taught me. It’s not about the mountain of tasks that await. It’s about the next task. It’s not about all the days you have to go. It’s about the next day. As long as we keep moving and keep working, we’re accomplishing something, aren’t we? My dears, I say we are. Keep that in mind as you go forward. It’s about the next math test, the next essay, the next week of boot camp, the next task or class. Then, you should look back at all of that and smile. Remember to speak to people. Smile at people. Help someone to do what you find easy. These are the things you owe the world. The world owes you nothing. It’s your job to make it better.

Your graduation was awesome. Ben Norton quoted Drake. Madison Norton led us in the school song. Mr. Bailey quoted Katy Perry??? Yes, that happened. :-)

In closing, I want to share one of my amazing senior letters. It represents all the senior letters that were delivered this week. Jordan Stovall gave me permission to use it. I think there’s a message in it for us all.

Excerpt:

“Dear Mrs. Washington,

Very rarely does one, though not through lack of trying, find such a vast source of inspiration as I have found in your classroom. Very rarely does one meet another person who has such an important and immense role in the formation of one’s identity as you have had in mine. A few words that describe my experience in your class: life-changing, exciting, thought-provoking, and inspiring. It is through your class that I, who was once direly and drastically weary with the world, have found a certain hope, a new meaning in my life. It is through your class that I gained the ability to shrug off the wrongs in the world in pursuit of lighter ideals. For you, Mrs. Washington, taught me about writing. Literature, writing, is a reflection into the various truths of humanity.

It is these truths, these constants, these lessons in life that you have taught me that I value above all else. Like Edna Pontellier, (The Awakening) I must find my own way in life now before I come to regret it, and find happiness in myself apart from others. Like Jay Gatsby, (The Great Gatsby) I must pursue a vision of the world as it should be, and value and chase ideals and love. Like John Proctor, (The Crucible) I must stand as a beholder of truth, never succumbing to the pressures and trials that tempt us into deceit. Like Hester Prynne, (The Scarlet Letter) I must look inside myself to realize and cherish the values that I would embody and protect, and discount those outside forces who would have me change my being to please them.

These lessons, all of which I learned through your class, have become the foundation of my personal identity.”

His letter goes on… :-) Here’s our picture.

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So grads, I want you to know that TISD loves you. Get out there and make people know you for the good you do.

Love everyone. Inspire someone. Be a blessing to the world… “til day is done.” Then, wake up, and do it again.

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Embrace the Crazy. Embrace the Fun.

I wasn’t planning on making a blog post today, but then I saw that picture. That crazy looking picture of me emailed by SMART Technologies. Emailed to everybody! I saw it and remembered my Facebook post from yesterday. “Embrace the crazy. Embrace the fun.”

First, I have to say that my friends and family love me and want to protect me. They say, “Slow down. Just don’t do that stuff. Say no, and take a nap.” Now, don’t get me wrong. I do want a nap, but I learned in October 2013 that my 2014 wouldn’t include many naps. That’s ok. I embraced it. What a wonderful opportunity I have that many would love to have. I learned that I’ll have many years to impact education, but this is my year of recognition. It comes with obligations to my local school community, regional community, and state and national obligations. Many of my friends and family don’t understand the obligations, and that’s ok. It does NOT come with a full or partial sabbatical. That means I have to work in all those areas while also taking care of my students. (family and self too) That makes for some crazy days. But it makes for some cool experiences! I hope that at the end of this crazy, wonderful year, I have left the Texas Teacher of the Year program in better shape than I found it.

I spoke to the Region 8 first year teachers last week, and in my presentation, I told them to be real…to never take themselves too seriously. That’s truly what I try to do. I had a great time speaking to them and even got a free Kindle Fire out of it. Allow me to digress. They drew tickets to give away two Kindles. Then, Tammy Kuhlengel said, “I always wanted to have an Oprah moment. I tricked you. Every teacher gets a Kindle!” I cheered for them and took their pictures. Then she said, “And of course we want to give our very own Texas Teacher of the Year a Kindle too, and hers has a purple bow. Her favorite color!” Good stuff!!

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A couple days ago I found myself filming a television show segment that followed the segment about two beautiful and smart young ladies. I felt hot and sweaty and icky. They were so great though. Only I would have to follow such beauties! That face of mine says it all. It was so great to meet them.

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Anyway, I saw that crazy looking picture that was emailed out today, and I covered my face. Then, my friend Brett (Oregon TOY) posted it to our state teacher of the year group, and we had some great laughs making up captions. Here it is. No more stalling. Who KNOWS what I was saying to Rae McKee! (1991 National Teacher of the Year) Why would anybody make such a face in the White House?? I welcome your funny captions.
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There have been so many amazing moments this year, and the year isn’t even over. I have a busy summer ahead. There’s going to be more good, more crazy, and maybe even some bad. Did I tell you that as soon as I got to the hotel in D.C. I was gesturing with my hands as I talked to the man who was giving me my room key? I flicked my hand, and off flies my teacher of the year ring, smacking him in the chest. See? Crazy!

There has been frustration and certainly exhaustion, but through it all, I’m trying to do three things: 1. Have a good time making memories. 2. Make some things happen in my year of recognition 3. Be real and tell the truth about it.

So, thank you family and friends for not understanding some of the crazy. That just means you love me. I’ll be a better advocate and teacher after all of this. I’ll be a better speaker and presenter. I’ll understand the profession a lot better and have a few more tools to improve it. And I might be a little tired and a wee bit crazy, but it’ll be good tired and good crazy.

Thank you for embracing my crazy. Thank you for sharing in my fun.

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The Washingtons Go to D.C. Day five: The White House

After the marathon day before and the late night gala, we were all so happy that we got to sleep a little later. We met at 10:00 to go to the White House for an education policy meeting with Roberto Rodriquez, assistant to the president. We went through the security checks, identification, socials, close looks in the face. I whipped out my phone to get a picture of the beautiful tulips. “Ma’am! This is a secure area. No pictures or videoing allowed!” (Oops) We clowned around in line and took pictures, when we could, of each other. It almost felt like a field trip. Only we were the excited students and Jon Quam was the teacher. He had already told us on the bus to contain our exuberance, but we just couldn’t help it.

Inside, we went through more checks and eventually met with President Obama’s staffers. We “ooohed” and “aaahhhed” at the beautiful marble and staircases. We each had a place at the table… A PLACE. Isn’t that what all teachers want? Time was tight. There was a minute by minute schedule that the assistant was following, but we managed to get in some good questions, comments, and concerns. My hand was up three times, but as I said, time was tight. We had a meeting with the president. I couldn’t get in my questions. That’s OK. The STOYs who did get in, did you proud.

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We quickly ate lunch and were whisked away to the White House dining room. The soggy ground didn’t allow for a Rose Garden ceremony, but we were able to hang out in the dining room, red room, green room, blue room, and east room. I can’t describe the beauty. Rich, dark wood, marble, huge fireplaces, floor to ceiling drapes, silk wall coverings, large windows that overlooked the awesome monuments that make D.C. what it is. There were huge paintings of the men who ran the free world from that very building. The furniture was ornate and so stately. As we waited, we took a thousand more pictures. I held my tiger ribbon close.

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Then, it was time. We got into position… by height. I was on the shorter end. I stood between Alaska and West Virgina. Our smiles were huge! We could hear the president talking to our classmates as we inched up. Then I saw him, and for a minute, he almost didn’t seem real, but he was. He was laughing and talking and making us feel welcome. We each gripped a name card so that military personnel could introduce us to him. It was almost my turn. “Card please, ma’am. Step up.” I stepped to the mark… I didn’t see it, but apparently secret service and military did. “Your name is easy. Thanks for an easy name.” I smiled back at the military guy with all the medals. I needed to prepare my thoughts, and he was thanking me for my plain name. “You will see a flash, flash. Then walk up to the president, ma’am.”
The president’s smile was huge!  He is super tall! He is really handsome, and he was so kind to everybody. “How are you?” (Not sure what I said) “What part of Texas are you from?” “Texarkana.”
“Texarkana.” (He said the word!)
“What do you teach?”
“English… to juniors”
“Juniors!??? You look like you ARE a junior.” He turned to secret service. “Doesn’t she look like a high school junior?”
I don’t know what they said.
“Yes, sir. I’m ending my 16th year.”
“Thank you for what you do for kids.” He put his arm around me.
We faced the photographer. I think I might have been talking when the flash happened. Time will tell. Argh!
Then I moved forward, and I was announced to all of America.
As I entered the room, I was disoriented a minute by the flashes and the crowd, and although we had just practiced, for a split second, I didn’t know which way to walk!
I saw my classmates clapping on the risers and I walked to join them.
Once we were all in place, it got quiet. I looked around at all the cameras, our families, and the blinding lights. I wondered which camera Texarkana could see me through. I had just read Mr. Bailey’s email to the staff. I knew they were watching. Ricky was smirking. Then the president, the secretary, and Sean entered. The president’s speech was great and he joked with us a little on the stage. “This is a good looking group!” He presented Sean with his apple, and then Sean rocked his speech. I’m so proud of him!
Afterwards, we were all looking around at our families as they snapped pictures. The president said, “Squeeze in. Act like you like each other! Let’s take the official shot. Look at THAT camera.” We laughed. He said, “I’m proud of you all. Now, some of us have to go to work.” Then he walked away to prepare for a prime minister’s visit. We had ten minutes, that’s it, to see our families before leaving for the STOY press conference.

We were told all week that we were rock stars who represented rock stars. Everyone treated us exactly like rock stars, too. I walked out squeezing my tiger ribbon as little kids screamed at us from the gate. We waved. We snapped more pictures. We went to our press conference. Someone grabbed me and said, “Texas, you need to stay for an interview.”
I stood there looking at my classmates, looking at kids at the gate, looking at that huge house. I thought about everyone at home. I thought about the history that had occurred right on those grounds. I realized that for me, for my family, for my students, for my friends, for my community, for Texas teachers, and for every teacher who ever called me a student, magic had just happened.

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The Washingtons Go to D.C. Day Four: Policy and Partying

The day began with breakfast and a panel discussion on teacher leadership.  Then, we hopped on the bus to begin the day again.

U.S. Department of Education

We took the bus to the U.S. Department of Education. It’s the place teachers hear about throughout our careers. We wonder about what really goes on there. Who are the people behind those doors who make decisions for us and the students we teach? I must admit that I had some preconceived notions before walking in. I expected to be talked to. I expected that we wouldn’t see eye to eye about some of the critical issues. I was wrong.

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I found everyone to be incredibly down to earth. They were there to listen and took notes on the things that we shared. We divided into groups and went to examine a new initiative called Teach to Lead. We are the only educators to ever hold that document. It was hot off the presses, and we weren’t even allowed to take it from the room. I love the plan. Basically, it is an initiative to create and increase leadership roles for teachers who want to lead, train, but stay in the classroom. I asked about hybrid roles for teachers, and this is exactly what this could be. Not every teacher wants to be a principal. I don’t. It’s not for me. However, I would love a hybrid role that allows me a more flexible schedule to teach classes and also mentor and help teachers in my district. This initiative addresses the problem that many teachers face in wanting to lead while still having a direct impact on kids. I actually got to work on this initiative, and my fellow STOYs and I are looking forward to opportunities to do more with it.

My group leader took us on a tour that included Arne Duncan’s work area and dining room. (They often eat right there in order to keep working.) The people there are working hard and do have our best interests and our kids’ best interests at heart. They are writing policy, and sometimes, by the time it filters down to the states, it looks different. There is an implementation gap, and the department agrees that those gaps have to be worked on. Basically, they are regular people who actually aren’t that scary at all.

The Capitol Tour
After leaving there, I got with Pam Reilly (Il) and Beth Maloney (AZ). Pam’s congressman set up a tour of the Capitol for us. We traveled through the rain to meet our husbands there. I was so impressed with all art in the building. There were two statues for each state, student artwork, and hand painted ceilings and walls. We got to go through the tunnel and we sat in on a house hearing on Guantanamo Bay. We walked a LOT, and we girls had sore feet. Finally, we left to go back to the hotel to get ready for the gala. It was pouring down outside and we couldn’t get a taxi for the longest time. The husbands sacrificed themselves when one came and they let us have it. They eventually made it back….dripping wet. We only had 30 minutes to dry off and get to the gala!

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Gala
We made it to the gala on time but in the midst of a storm. My dress was soaked at the bottom, and my hair got wet, but we were all in great spirits. Everyone looked so spiffy in their formal duds. It was like the Oscars for teachers. There was a multi-course meal, a string band that dispersed and played at our tables, and many dignitaries in the house. We heard from AFT and NEA (Lily Garcia rocks!) and President Eisenhower’s granddaughter. Secretary Duncan also spoke about the changes that need to occur in public education.  Throughout the night we got to glimpse into the classrooms of the four finalists for National Teacher of the Year.  Amazing! I love these people! I even got to tell Secretary Duncan about my platform to inspire teachers to lead and exercise their voices. I told him that I loved Teach to Lead. He joked that he had come to Texas and snatched that idea right from me. We took tons of pictures (these few don’t do my collection justice) and ended the long day exhausted, giddy, and inspired to keep improving our craft.

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The Washingtons Go to D.C. Day three

 

 

Today, we went to the headquarters of SMART Technology. We were split into two groups. In one group, we watched a demonstration of Notebook 14. Then we got into smaller groups and practiced using it. In the next group, we learned about SMART Amp technology that allows the students to collaborate in some really cool ways. Oh, and if any of my students are reading this, I understand how to work the 3D capabilities now. We can play with it when I get back. The day ended with the groups teaching lessons using the technology. Some of the STOYs left to meet with their state legislators. I didn’t, but we’ll be back in D.C. this summer, and I might try to meet with them then. I didn’t have time to set that up.

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We came back to the hotel and got ready for our casual family dinner and program. The food was amazing! The desserts were plentiful and delicious. Crystal West, one of my students from Memphis, goes to Howard University, and she got a chance to join us for dinner. I was so happy to  see her! Each STOY had to stand and introduce his or family, and I was honored to introduce Ricky and Crystal. Then, a video was played to honor us. Pictures of us were shown from our announcement ceremony, and there were pictures with our students. Side note: When I went to interview for state, Katy Perry’s “Roar” was played over and over on the radio. I don’t know why they played it so much. It pumped me up to go in there though. I felt good afterwards, and it was played a bunch of times on the drive home. After I was announced, I got in the car to that song playing again. Tonight, when it was time for Texas, the first song ended, and “Roar” was played on my time. Clearly, this is my year to ROAR!

TOY Presentations

TOY Presentations

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We then got our “presidential instructions” and then lined up by height. That’s the order in which we’ll meet him. Shortest first. I’m not too short, but I won’t wait long.

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Then, we had a welcome for the STOY babies that were born this year. We pitched in and bought them gifts. Kathy from New Jersey embroidered the blankets. “My favorite TOY is my daddy, “insert name” He is the 2014 “insert state” TOY. Too cute!!

We had a cool planning session in the lobby before going to our rooms. We’re planning to do something cool after the White House ceremony on Thursday. I think we’re the first class to do it. Lots of personality in our class!

Tomorrow, there are some big things happening. I’ll check in. Stay Orange!

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The Washingtons Go to D.C. Day Two

Today began with all of the STOYs boarding the bus to go to the Smithsonian Castle. We had a short program and then we broke into our small groups. My group was the Smithsonian Museum of African Art. The curator took us on a journey of all the wonderful pieces from many countries in Africa. We saw everything you could imagine and learned about how many artists studied African art as a source of inspiration. Picasso was one such artist. I got to play on camera in the teaching studio and I learned that stars make noise. Yes, stars in the universe vibrate, and we got to hear them. We even got to hold some pieces of art. Then, we got to see the parts of the museum that the public doesn’t see. We even got to travel underground back to the castle. Oh, and 96% of this particular museum is underground! We went back and networked and then had lunch. Here are a few pictures.

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Then, everybody rushed to check hair and straighten ties. We were on our way to the Biden residence. One thing most of us were worrying about was our failing cell phone batteries. We had gone all day and wanted to be sure we had enough juice for pictures. We were spiffed up and excited as we rounded the corner to the mansion. There was a huge barricade. STOP This Area is Protected By The Secret Service. There was a gate and serious looking people beside it. There were more warning signs. A police officer boarded the bus and checked identification. Then another one boarded and checked us again. We went through that gate and then another. More warning signs. The bus stopped and a secret service canine was brought out to sniff the outside of the bus. They were making SURE our STOY bus didn’t get mixed up with the THUG teacher bus! Ha! We were so excited with all the buzz. It was some real 007 kind of stuff!  It was drizzling and my phone was blinking that slow blink of death. We got off the bus to be searched and to walk through a metal detector. Then we waked through the iron gate that allowed us to walk up to the house. The house! Aaah! Gorgeous! We were all giggling and saying “Wow” over and over. (Or maybe that was just me.) We walked up to the house, and as we approached, a military string quartet (I think it was a quartet) began to play. A man in a suit was on the porch. “Welcome, Monica, and congratulations! We are so thrilled to host you. I’m from Texas too!” Stupidly, I said, “You know my name!” I’d forgotten all about that big white badge I was wearing. Inside, it was so pretty and homey. Their family photos were out… weddings, vacations, grandbabies, and I thought, “They seem like regular people.” In the dining room there were hors d’oeuvres (is that the correct French spelling?)  The deviled eggs were divine! Dr. Biden wasn’t there yet, and we just walked from room to room eating, looking at pictures, and listening to the band. We took a few photos and pinched ourselves. The sunroom was pretty, and I put the orange ribbon on top of Dr. Biden’s book that was on the table. Then, they asked us to line up for our picture with her. There was a professional photographer, but Dr. Biden didn’t mind us having our cell phones. I was introduced to her as “Monica Washington from the great state of Texas” by the same man from earlier. She hugged me and thanked me for coming. Once we all had our pictures, she came back to the living area to speak. She said that she was proud of us. She said that she is one of us. She is giving her final exam soon and has essays to grade too. She talked about how teachers go above and beyond in a way that she doesn’t think many other professions do. She said that teaching is a 24 hour a day job. Kids are always with us… either in our teacher bags or on our minds. She spoke about each finalist and said she was honored to have us in her home. Then, she started shaking hands and hugging us. I went and told her that I teach English too. Told her that I agreed with what she said in the program. “Through writing we really get to know students.” She told us about how students have some heavy issues and often turn to us. She was so gracious. We took a group picture on the front steps and she got right in the middle of us for the picture. Then she told us that we could walk and see the grounds. I took that time to tell her that I wanted to honor teachers at home with my ribbon and she said, “Yes. Let’s do another picture.” She hugged me again and hugged my friends. I realized then that yes, she is a regular person just like us. She’s a regular person in an extraordinary position… just like us. I will never forget today.

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Then, I met up with Ricky who had been hanging out with Chris Reilly all day. ( husband of the IL TOY) Katherine Bassett who is the amazing CEO of NNSTOY read my blog yesterday and contacted me this morning. She wanted to hire a driver to take the two of us to all the sites Ricky missed yesterday. So, I threw on jeans, ran down and gave her a big hug, and got chauffeured around with Ricky! I will be forever grateful. I told you a lot, but I couldn’t capture it all. This was a beautiful day. This is the fabulous network that I will be a part of for life. I got to have a once in a lifetime experience with my friends. I got to sightsee with Ricky. I have a friend in every state and territory. I got to honor you. That was a bit jumbled, but so is my brain. I love you all! Orange…Jill Biden knows about that Orange. You were with me the whole way.

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The Washingtons Go to D.C. Day one

When Ricky and I go somewhere we scope it out in advance. Are there stairs? Are the doors standard width? Do the elevators work? What’s parking like?  When we started planning for this trip, we were a bit worried about the travel. How would the plane ride go? We’ve never flown together, and flying can be very stressful for someone with a disability. You have to give up your chair, and you are completely at the mercy of others. That would be like giving someone your legs and trusting that everything will be OK. However, the travel went fine. The trip went smoothly, and we hopped into our taxi to come to the hotel. I was reunited with my state teacher friends, and we all got comfy to go to the opening reception and the city tour. And then the buses came. Buses… with steps. We don’t do steps. I knew that everything would be taken care of in terms of the rest of the week, but I didn’t think to double check about the reception and tour. I was doing a million things to prepare, and I didn’t follow up. Of course he told me to go on. They called him a taxi. He said to go with my friends and he would catch up. I got on the bus, but I felt bad as he sat there. (No, he was not going to let me stay.) Other teachers offered to go back with me, but I thought he would catch up. I went to the reception. No Ricky. He couldn’t get a taxi there. It didn’t show. Then they called a shuttle. It didn’t show. So I attended the reception and the tour without him. It was bittersweet. I was glad to be with friends, but he
deserved to be there too. I did not enjoy today as I should have. I knew Ricky was back at the hotel ordering room service that he didn’t want. He was the one supporting me when I was going through this process. He’s a history buff and wanted to see the city today. 

     This week is about friends AND family.

Tomorrow, I have a day at the Smithsonian and then a reception with the Bidens. THEN, I’m going to see the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, The MLK Memorial, and the WWII Memorial all over again… with Ricky. I’ll post more pictures tomorrow.

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