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The paradigm shift

We welcome Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Ashleigh Fields of East Mecklenburg High School to share a creative fiction piece inspired by the positive influence and power educators have in supporting student development. This is her first story in the graduate voices series.

By Ashleigh Fields

On an old hill surrounded by green pastures and acres of sunflowers sat a one room school for 20 students. “Prairie View High”, was carved in the wooden sign above the door. Though the landscape was quite bare, it left room for the children’s minds to run rampant. Creativity and expression were ever at work, leaving mischief to follow closely behind in its wake. The only voice of reason arose from their teacher, Mr. Dunbar. His thoughts flowed just as freely as the children’s, but he had seen the harshness of the world and his only goal was to protect the students from the awaiting heartache. He started each day by reading an original poem, always written on crumpled papers and housed in his sleek brown satchel. Some days he’d read student work, other days from newspaper clippings, but he always left the classroom’s staple poem for last; it written by Mr. Dunbar himself. It read…

“What dreams we have and how they fly

Like rosy clouds across the sky;

Of wealth, of fame, of sure success,

Of love that comes to cheer and bless;

And how they whither, how they fade,

The waning wealth, the jilting jade—

The fame that for a moment gleams,

Then flies forever,—dreams, ah—dreams!”

Afterwards, he’d end with a short motivational speech about the majors and minors of life. One thing I loved to hear him say was, “to be major in life and minor in death is nothing but a paradigm; we must always aim for more.” It reminded me of something other than my schooling, something other than my grades. It reminded me of my legacy. After class, the other kids always found themselves discussing which of their outfits looked better or which college they’d attend. But I always found myself pondering that quote and the impact it’d make me have on the world. I had big, big dreams.

It wasn’t until one afternoon walking home in the sweet September rain that I’d discovered what I was gonna do. I wanted to put a rainbow in the sky. It reminded me of the glory of the Lord and every time someone saw one, it seemed to put a smile on their face. The rainbow was a sign of good faith, which Mama says is important for everyone to have. That night I prayed long and hard about how to put a rainbow in the sky. And it seemed like the next day God answered my prayers. Mr. Dunbar said we were going to have a science fair and instructed every student to create a project to display. I just knew mine was gonna be a rainbow.

For weeks, I tried to decide on how I would make it happen. Should I pray? Should I draw? Should I just wait? Well, the date of the science fair came, and I couldn’t decide. So, I just said a prayer. Three students presented before me, including Cindy, a straight-A student. Her marks were always the highest in the class, and after seeing her presentation, I was sure she got another A. But I couldn’t be too focused on that because before I knew it, Mr. Dunbar called me up to present.

“Good morning class, today, with the help of God, I plan to put a rainbow in the sky.”

I swear, I heard about 11 kids laugh as I walked them outside. We sat on the steps and waited. And waited. And waited until we could wait no more. But no rainbow came. I was devastated. I was embarrassed. And I just knew Mr. Dunbar had hated me for the time that I wasted and the dumb person I had surely become. That night when I went home, I’d decided I wasn’t going back. I was too dumb for school. Besides, they didn’t need me, they had Ms. Cindy, who did everything right. Three weeks had gone by before Mr. Dunbar showed up at my door. I was the only one at home, so I had to speak with him.

“Why aren’t you coming to school,” said Mr. Dunbar.

I responded, “Because I’m too dumb.”

“What would make you think something like that?” he asked.

“Why, I failed my last project,” I explained.

“You didn’t fail; you got a perfect grade, even higher than Cindy,” he said.

I sat a moment in shock. “But I don’t understand why.”

“You remember the poem I read each day?” he asked.

I nodded my head.

“Well what do you think it means?”

I shrugged my shoulders. It was time for him to do the talking.

“It’s similar to a rainbow. I read it to the class every day because I want you all to understand that dreams come and go. And sometimes you’re the only one there to see the truth of them flash by. Dreams can make you just as sad as they make you happy because often there are dreams you won’t have the power to share. There are only a talented few who are able to brave both sides of that harsh truth. Those who can are ready to take on the wonders of the world. And that is why you got an A. I am also recommending that you graduate early to begin pursuing your passion in the world,” said Mr. Dunbar.

“But I don’t want to leave you,” I cried.

He pulled a crumpled paper out of his pocket and handed it to me. “As long as you have this poem, I’ll be with you wherever you go.”

And that was the last I saw of him. The next year, my family moved to a small town called Eatonville. My life’s journey began from there. I always thought back on what Mr. Dunbar had said. “To be major in life, and minor in death is nothing but a paradigm, we must always aim for more.”

To me, I guess it meant we must remain in death what we aspired to be, and had hopefully achieved, in life. I wanted to leave my rainbow, my smile on this world. I found that my calling was words. After writing novels and plays, which known worldwide, on my deathbed all I could hear was that quote. I hope I made him and the world proud.

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Ashleigh Fields is a graduate of East Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. She continued her studies at Howard University in the United States. She is an honors journalism major and political science minor. On weekends, you are likely to find her running track. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here. 

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!

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