Searching for Stella: The Quest

The story of this journey begins with loss. When my mother died in 2011, I grieved, but I also found myself thinking about her as a guiding force in my life as well as in the lives of so many others. Stella Barnett was the epitome of the first grade teacher. Of course, she challenged her students and helped them grow academically, but mom’s special gift was her unwavering love and acceptance of others.

Stella Barnett was a first grade teacher at Porter Gaud School in Charleston, SC.

Stella would have proudly told you that her faith was central to her approach to life. She devoted each day to reading the bible, and that quiet time of reflection and prayer was evident in her interaction with everyone.

I chose a different path when it came to faith. I found myself disillusioned with how divisive institutional religions can be. If I were to define myself, I would say I’m a humanist. I believe that we are all the same in our search for meaning in our lives, even though we use different languages to explain that cosmic quest for individual understanding.

For me, my mother’s spirit transcends any one religion. Rather it exemplifies the love that is central to most if not all religions.

While I bear my father’s name, I followed my mother’s footsteps by becoming a teacher. For 20 years, I taught at Sumter High, a massive school in small-town South Carolina. Immersed in the ever-changing world of students, I found a beautiful place of sharing in my classroom. I gained as much personally from my interaction with my students as I hope they did from our time together.

All teachers who have taught for a prolonged period have struggled at some point with the loss of a student. Jessica Ward, Michael Washington, Brittany Harglerode and Donovan Jones are just a few of the young people who passed through my classroom only to die much too early.

Katie Carter was a sophomore at Sumter High School and a member of The Cock’s Quill, the student newspaper. She died unexpectedly in May of 2015.

However, when Katie Carter unexpectedly died, I found myself struggling immensely to come to terms with her loss. Perhaps it was because my own daughter was graduating from school that year. Perhaps it was that Katie was a part of the student newspaper of which I was the advisor. Ultimately, I think there was something about Katie’s spirit that reminded me of my mother. While she could be a firecracker and ball of excitement, she genuinely loved those around her and worked to show them that love through her actions.

Just before she died in early May of 2015, Katie and I spoke while walking to set up an interview.  I asked her what she wanted to do with her life, a question that I have been asking students perpetually over the years.  She told me that she wanted to travel and see the world, that she wanted to work for National Geographic.

As she told me about her dream, I could see here in distant lands, camera and notepad in toe, discovering all that lay beyond the borders of her small town.  It reminded me of my own dreams to travel when I was younger before I was married and raising a child and teaching full time.

This is a very personal journey. I am searching for the spirit of Stella that I believe to be as ubiquitous as the stars that stretch across the night sky. And I am also carrying the memory of Katie, a young woman who lived life fiercely and fully and dreamed with courage, in my heart.

Those two people were not famous, but they made a positive impact on almost everyone they knew.

That is the reason for my quest—to seek and to show that love and kindness are everywhere and that, if we simply set aside the divisions that blind us, we can see the all too human reflection in each pair of eyes that look into our own.

Luther Barnett

(I’m including an episode of The CQ TV here. The Cock’s Quill is the student newspaper of Sumter High School. The students who were a part of the staff and I chose to pay tribute to Katie at the end of this episode. I chose to include the entire episode because I was always exceedingly proud of the work my students produced.)

8 thoughts on “Searching for Stella: The Quest

  1. Carolyn Huggins

    Thank you for sharing. I would like to read your blog as you travel. One other thing that your Mom and Katie had in common: both dedicated Christians.

  2. Joyce Shreve

    Stare travels Luther. Thank you for all of gave to so many while teaching at Sumter High! The opportunity you have Victoria (Tori) was the main reason she came back to Sumter High after her illness. Thank you for believing in her and for all you gave! You are an amazing person and I look forward to following your travels! Godspeed!

  3. Stephanie

    I am excited for your journey and for the opportunity to learn more about this world through your genuine eyes. Much love as you embark on this beautiful quest.

  4. Chuck Renner

    While I have always enjoyed your friendship, I now know why. Keep on trippin’ and have my best wishes that you find all you are looking for and more.

  5. Jason Koronkowski

    I didn’t know the full background of why you wanted to start your Journey, but now that I know. I hope you found peace in the world you saw. Thank you for coming by Halfmoon today and updating us on your trip. It seems like you left just yesterday but I know you had many experiences in your time away thanks to your blog. Your pictures are beautiful!

    We share a commonality. I have lost a lot of people in my life which drove me to travel and see what my friends and family could not. I took solace in thinking that every trip I took with my wife, my loved one’s memories came with us.

    Good luck deciding what to do with your path in life and I look forward to helping you prepare for many more adventures.

    A friend,

    1. Jason Koronkowski

      Wow, I just proofread my post, please ignore grammatical mistakes :). I know that may be hard since you are a teacher

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