SILER CITY — For 41 years one woman has occupied the desk in the middle of the Jordan-Matthews High School library. It’s been a space for students to have their college essays read, contemplate difficult life decisions and feel safe in the often chaotic times of high school.
Now, the woman behind the desk — a bedrock of the J-M community — is retiring. Rose Pate celebrated her final year at J-M on Wednesday night with a special retirement ceremony in the school’s auditorium. The ceremony featured more than 50 current students, staff and alumni dating as far back as the class of 2006.
The auditorium seemed a fitting place for Pate’s retirement ceremony as the founder and president of JMArts, the nonprofit organization to enhance arts education at J-M. When Pate founded JMArts in 2011, the school barely had enough funding to put students on stage in a costume. She wrote and produced three one-act musicals, working with J-M chorus teacher Matt Fry. The final one was “Twi-School Musical,” a mashup of the Disney hit “High School Musical” and the Twilight books, which they performed because the school couldn’t afford rights to perform a Broadway show.
Since then, J-M has performed nine Broadway musicals, including “Into the Woods,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Oklahoma!” The theatre program is set to perform its 10th, “Shrek the Musical,” next spring.
Pate’s leadership in the arts extends beyond theater. She’s also been instrumental — pun intended — in supporting the band, chorus and visual arts programs.
“There are so many opportunities for students at J-M that simply would not exist without Rose Pate,” J-M marketing teacher Rachel Daniel said during the ceremony. “Everything Ms. Pate has done for JMArts is truly incredible.”
Last Wednesday’s ceremony was filled with heartfelt tributes and songs from past and current students. It featured snippets about the legacy Pate is leaving at J-M and glimpses at the talent she helped foster on the very stage where the goodbyes were said. By the end of the night, there were few dry eyes left in the room.
“I’m overwhelmed with joy,” Pate said afterward. “I just wept with happiness the entire time because all of my former students, colleagues and friends made this really meaningful.”
Pate said it was fulfilling to see students of past and present and witness their growth on one special night.
“She is the perfect symbol of what J-M stands for,” said senior and emcee of the ceremony Wilson Ramos Meza. “Her love for the arts has inspired me, and I think I speak for everyone when I say Ms. Pate is cherished.”
Throughout the night, there were stories of Pate going the extra mile for her students and the arts program. Once, Alyssa Gaines, a J-M student from the class of 2018, sent Pate a text on a whim because she was performing in a college junior recital in South Carolina.
“My school is about four hours away from here,” Gaines said. “But it didn’t matter. She and [husband] Chip made the drive to come see my recital, and it just meant so much to me.”
Gaines performed a song from that recital, “Nothing Is Too Wonderful to Be True” from the show “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” during the ceremony.
Another performance was from Heath Smith, a J-M alumnus from the class of 2014. He played a piano rendition of “Music of the Night,” from “Phantom of the Opera.” The meaning of the song for Smith, however, extends deeper than a visceral ballad about choosing between passion and romance. Smith didn’t see the movie until after he graduated high school, but when he finally did watch it, his first message was to Pate.
“I said, ‘Ms. Pate, this is the best thing I’ve ever heard,’” Smith said.
He then forgot about that message until a few weeks later when there was a knock at his door.
“There was a wrapped up gift from Chip and Rose,” he said, “and it was a copy of the musical score to the show.”
Smith said he went on to learn every piece of music in that book. He added getting to perform “Phantom of the Opera” was special for him because it symbolized the type of impact Pate had.
“Tonight was incredible because we celebrated a woman who has so much of an impact on so many lives,” Smith said after the ceremony. “Knowing her has been a jewel in my life. It was so special to be able to perform something that Ms. Pate spawned my love for. Every time I play it, I think of her.”
Following Pate’s retirement, that desk in the library will be taken over by J-M alumna and teacher Jessica Kimrey — something she said only feels natural. When Kimrey was a freshman at J-M, her parents told her if she ever felt lost that she should come to that desk in the library and find Rose Pate.
“From that moment on, Rose Pate has been my compass rose,” Kimrey said. “When I was upset and needed someone to talk to, the office in the library was my go-to destination. When I wanted to celebrate or needed an essay read, Ms. Pate’s office was the first stop.”
Kimrey said Pate was the person who encouraged her to reach for her dreams. She said Pate asked the right questions to counsel her, and many others, through tough life decisions.
“That library has felt like home since I was 14 years old,” Kimrey said. “It felt like home because of Rose Pate. It’s my goal, I hope, that I can continue that legacy just a little bit as I transition in trying to fill very big shoes that are being left behind.”
Following the conclusion of the school year, Pate said she will remain involved as president of JMArts. But first, she and her husband Chip are taking some much-deserved time off with a trip to New York City to see more shows on Broadway.
Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @b_rappaport.
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