Melody Herzfeld, director of the drama department at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, helped keep 65 students safe during the Parkland, Florida, school shooting earlier this year. On Sunday she was given the prestigious Excellence in Theatre Education Award at the 72nd annual Tony Awards, which includes a $10,000 prize for her school.
The award recognizes a K-12 theater educator in the U.S. who has made a monumental impact on the lives of students and who embodies the highest standards of the profession.
Herzfeld shared some of the lessons she gave her students just a week before the tragic event during her acceptance speech. "I remember, on February 7th, sharing a circle with my beloved students and encouraging them to be good to each other when times were trying, and to keep the family together, accept everyone and make a difference," Herzfeld said. "And I remember only a week later, on February 14th, a perfect day, where all these lessons in my life and in their short lives would be called upon to set into action."
Herzfeld hid her students in her office for two hours until authorities led them to safety. At CNN's town hall on gun violence a week later, her student performed the original song, "Shine." Herzfeld's students once again took the stage at the Tony Awards, and this time they performed "Seasons of Love" from the award-winning show "Rent."
"As theater teachers, we teach kids by giving them space to be critiqued yet not judged, giving them spot in the light yet not full stage, creating the circle of trust in which to fail," Herzfeld said. "Telling them long drawn-out stories so they can be better listeners, giving students simple responsibilities that are beneath them to encourage character, and stressing to them to be selective as they formulate relationships while welcoming every single side that exists in the world. And also how to begin again."
Herzfeld is the fourth person to receive the award, which is presented by the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University. The $10,000 prize will go to Stoneman Douglas theater program, which Herzfeld has overseen for the past 15 years.
"During a normal given time, I would say that I am truly humbled and grateful for this recognition for the work I have done. However, the way that my students have taken to action through speech, performance and passionate honesty, it now means so much more," Herzfeld said in a statement. "My work is being reflected through my students, as it is every day with every arts teacher around the world."
Since February, Stoneman Douglas students including Emma González and David Hogg have organized a national school walkout and a march on Washington, and they continue to call for change. Former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama have expressed their support of the students, as have prominent business leaders like Apple CEO Tim Cook and sports stars like Dwyane Wade.
"We all have a common energy," Herzfeld said on Sunday. "We all want the same thing: To be heard. To tell our truth. To make a difference. And to be respected."
"We have all known that the future of the world was about collaborative creativity," she added. "And here we are. The future, changed for good."
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