Catherine Coker – “Mosi” (2007)

For our last recipient of the evening, but certainly not least, I’d like to ask Catherine Coker to step forward.

Before i begin i want to ask Catherine something. Did you read my letter of recommendation for you to your college? Well i was just going to tell everyone publicly what I’ve said privately.

I will tell you at the outset that in terms of growth, no one that i have ever known rivals the metamorphosis that has occurred in this young lady. When she first came to us four long years ago, she was a different person, one who tie dyed her hair, who carried a chip on her shoulder and a lot of violent anger. She chased a lot of vices and ended up in a lot of trouble. I won’t go into all of the details to spare her any embarrassment but it’s important you know this so you know how far she has climbed.

She also had a very low self esteem. She didn’t think much of herself or her capabilities. So one day i noticed she liked to draw on the flip chart we used to tally menus. I asked her to take down menu suggestions when the crew gathered to do that. She liked the idea and beamed when she was up there. I knew she would make a good leader then and asked her not just to take notes but to lead the menu discussion. She was reluctant but agreed and did a good job. Then i nudged her a bit further into running for secretary. She wasn’t sure she wanted to out of fear of rejection. She still didn’t feel that high of herself. But she ran and the smile on her face that night when she won was extraordinary.

From there she served a couple of terms as vice president of program, as a sea base officer and was elected to lead one of the groups going to montana this summer. Clearly, the rest of the crew has noticed the same leadership traits i spotted.

But there’s also her spirit. This is a woman who, if given a choice between camping in a thunderstorm or waiting until the next day will choose the thunderstorm and look at you oddly if you have a different opinion. She has been the recipient of this crew’s spirit award for that reason.

But i can’t talk about catherine without mentioning a couple of special moments she had this year. Last summer, three boys in lexington county died within hours in alcohol-related accidents after coming from the same party. She wrote me the next morning telling me about this. She knew two of the boys and this really hit home. What she did next was extraordinary. She wrote a memo to the crew about decision making, imploring everyone to think about the choices they make and the consequences.

I knew this was not just a tragedy but an important news story. It wasn’t something i could write about because i cover things for the greenville newspaper. But i have friends at the state and called one to connect the dots. He immediately saw how significant this was and talked to the paper’s editors. He called me back and asked if there was any way catherine would be willing to be interviewed. She agreed and the paper launched its own probe of not only that car crash but the issue behind it, also spurring a sled investigation.

All of that was caused by catherine wanting to stop this madness. Remember that next time any of you think one person doesn’t make a difference.

Then there were the habitat meals. That was the night last fall when we were supposed to bring meals to serve to about 40 habitat families and their children for habitat’s monthly meeting. We all arrived but the habitat staff didn’t. So the kids swung into action and did everything themselves. Everything seemed to go fine until after dinner when the kids went into the adjacent gym. Normally staff and adult volunteers go in there and organize the children. But there were none this night. So i looked through the gym door and there she was. Catherine was in the middle of a circle of kids she had organized into a game. No one had told her to do this. She saw the need and did it. It’s not just coincidence, by the way, that Catherine now wants to be a teacher.

All of life’s journeys come with rocky trails and the teen years are filled with twists and turns and painful falls. But watching a climb like Catherine’s is special.

When it came time to pick out a name for her, there really was only one that came to mind. You see although her name is Catherine, she is known by her friends as Kat. And there is a lot in common with the feline species. She certainly is sleek and strong, stealthy and independent. And she even enjoys cat naps. So it is with great honor tonight, Catherine, that i award you the Navajo name of Mosi, which means, cat.


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