When Paly social studies teacher David Rapaport found a telegram a year ago while browsing eBay, he never imagined that it would bring about the incredible opportunities to discover Presidential Award of Freedom recipient Mildred Jeffrey or to speak with former Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro.
The telegram, which was sent in 1968 from presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy to Jeffrey, would lead to a class book, in which roughly 150 students would research Jeffrey and her connection to Kennedy’s presidential campaign. The students had the opportunity to meet Jeffrey’s daughter, Sharon Lehrer, in person Thursday in order to gain a deeper insight into Jeffrey’s life and personality.
“It’s really quite an opportunity to be able to talk to the daughter of the person we’re writing about,” junior Emma Steuer said.
Lehrer mainly spoke about her mother’s role as a mother versus a politician. As part of her presentation, Lehrer brought many photos, plaques, collages, and pieces of her childhood that would give the students a better look at Jeffrey’s life.
“The most fundamental things she [Jeffrey] believed in were democracy and getting involved in the political process,” Lehrer said. “And she believed in family. Family was essential to her [Jeffrey’s] life. Even amid all her political activity, we would sit down for dinner, every night together.”
Despite Jeffrey’s active political involvement throughout her lifetime, Lehrer admitted that she did not initially realize her mother’s profound influence or role in politics.
“To me, she was just Mom,” Lehrer said.
Lehrer expressed great interest how the students were affected by learning about Jeffrey, as well as about their political involvements and aspirations.
“The youth are the future,” Lehrer said.
Junior Justin Hsi was captivated by Lehrer’s willingness to speak with high school students.
“Millie’s daughter coming was a once in a lifetime experience,” Hsi said. “It was amazing to get to listen to her speak about her mother and all of her accomplishments, and it reminded us once again of how important Millie Jeffery was.”
Rapaport found and purchased the telegram on eBay just before the 2006-2007 school year. The item captured Rapaport’s interest when he noticed that in the telegram, Kennedy expressed a request of Jeffrey’s approval for his Democratic nomination. The idea to write a book on Jeffrey sprouted after Rapaport had a conversation with Paly’s former assistant principal, Doug Walker, Rapaport said.
“I knew that students might find value in studying someone for whom there was no history written despite her tremendous behind the scenes political involvement,” Rapaport said. “It feels like bringing light to the shadows.”
Though Jeffrey’s name is unfamiliar to most, she is best known for her leadership and inspiring accomplishments as a United Auto Workers union organizer, civil rights activist, women’s rights activist. Jeffrey also contributed to Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign.
Since having started the project in fall of 2007, one of the major highlights was the occasion of interviewing Ferraro through a telephone call in early February. The students’ primary focus of the call was to find out more about Jeffrey’s relationship with Ferraro, who is the first female politician to represent the Democratic party as a Vice Presidential candidate. Students also got to hear Ferraro’s views on the current 2008 presidential election, in which gender is a prominent issue.
Rapaport’s classes have also recently come into contact with Michigan’s first female governor, Jennifer Granholm, through email. Jeffrey had a special connection to the state of Michigan for her leadership roles as a union organizer for the United Auto Workers (UAW) union. In her email, Granholm praised Jeffrey for having inspired her, Granholm, to run for office.
Rapaport received a $2500 Viking grant through Paly’s grant funding process early in the school year, which will allow a total of 500 copies of the book on Jeffrey to be published. Through class discussion and brainstorming, students have come up with the title “Keep At It,” and it will be approximately 40 pages long, according to Rapaport. Each student in Rapaport’s classes will receive a copy, with about 350 left available to the public, though not sold in bookstores.
Last year, Rapaport and his classes also made a book titled “A Soldier’s Scrapbook,” which rapidly sold an incredible 150 copies, according to Rapaport.