The story behind the real voice of George Mason
“Okay High School, lunchtime over. Let’s keep this Monday moving.”
I sigh. Lunch was definitely way too short today. I grab my trash, miserably attempt to chuck it in the trash can, but turn around embarrassed as it completely misses the bin. I pack my stuff and get ready to go back to class.
“Don’t forget your cellphones, lunch boxes, chargers…”
If you know me, you would know these sentences have saved me many times. As I exit the cafeteria, I turn around and speed back to search for my water bottle. Luckily, it’s still there. Thanks to Mr. Ron Henderson, Safety and Security paraprofessional and the real voice of George Mason — once again.
I know these words have not only helped me. These words have been ingrained in the minds of countless students, both current ones and those who have graduated, including Mr. Will Stewart, science teacher and a graduate of the GM class of 2007. He said that his friends can still imitate Mr. Henderson.
I knew I had to ask where this infamous line came from as we interviewed in his office.
“I try to be creative with my sentences … but [students] still forget [their stuff] all the time,” he told me.
As a regular in the cafeteria during lunchtime, I have always wondered about Mr. Henderson’s job and about his story.
Mr. Henderson started off working as a paraprofessional in 1999 and was later promoted to Safety and Security paraprofessional and decided to stick with it. He now works on lunch duty for all of Mason’s lunch blocks, and is responsible for students serving In-School-Suspension (a place which used to be called “The time-out room.”)
When he first started at Mason, his job description was slightly different, yet it still looked familiar. During the day he would do hall monitoring, then lunch duty, and back to hall monitoring before supervising school detention.
“I did a little bit of everything” Mr. Henderson recalls.
When I asked Mr. Henderson to tell something about himself that not many people know, his eyes lit up.
“I love motorcycles and fast cars … I know I am old and I am fat now, but I was a young man once,” Mr. Henderson said. “When you step on [on a fast vehicle] you can really go, it just pulls you in the back of your seat as a kid.”
As soon as he told me this, a cartoon-like poster on the wall immediately stuck out to me. On the poster, Mr. Henderson was seen smiling and holding a book titled “The Ultimate Motorcycle Book.” I curiously asked about the poster and learned that the previous GM librarian used to print pictures of staff and their favorite books, and sure enough, Mr. Henderson chose “The Ultimate Motorcycle Book”.
Mr. Henderson continued to passionately explain the history of motorcycles, fast cars, and their motors. He talked about the four-sowers, the V8 generation and more. Although my motorcycle knowledge doesn’t extend as far, his passion was more than clear to me.
“I’ve just about owned every motorcycle I desired. Yes, I’ve about owned them all. I own a Goldwing now. I still have it at home, I just don’t drive it to work. It’s called the Honda Goldwing, it comes with cruise control [and] radio … it is an old man’s bike,” Mr. Henderson explained as he pointed to a picture attached to his computer screen.
Mr. Henderson looks to get new bikes, too. “I hope my wife will let me upgrade,” he told me, this time pointing to a printed-out advertisement of the Slingshot SL on the wall of his office.
Mr. Henderson’s passion for motorcycles goes back a long time. In the mid-70’s, when Mr. Henderson was still a young teen, he used to ride bikes with his friends. However, one day things took a turn and Mr. Henderson fell off his bike. His friends laughed at him and made fun of him, but that day he told them and himself that he would never fall off again.
“They have all given it up. Once they got into their twenties, they stopped riding motorcycles. I am the only one that continued to ride,” Mr. Henderson recalled.
I couldn’t help but notice his passion and consistency in all aspects of his life.
“I have seen people come and go from here and it’s all the same. To me, it is all the same. It doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters where you are at and if you care. If you show people that you care, eventually you will win them over. It’s just about being consistent,” he said.
He attended multiple schools growing up, because segregated schools were abolished in the middle of his high school career.
“It was okay for me. I had the right attitude and conduct. My parents raised me with a tough skin and I let the words and stuff bounce off of me,” Mr. Henderson remembered.
We went back to talking about his job and the misconceptions about it.
“[Some students think my job] is small, petty or not important, but you can have all the security and all the cameras you want, but if you don’t have anybody with no hands-on experience – [if you don’t have anybody who] knows how to read people, their chemistry or their instincts, or knows that something is going to happen…” Mr. Henderson said.
Mr. Henderson suggests that his role is more complex than working with security.
“I just want to throw that out there, we do care and I do care. It is a lot of old-timers like me here, but we still care. It is not just a job, our work morale is low, but you know we do care,” he said.
Mr. Henderson wasn’t shy about answering all of my most personal questions:
On racism: “That is what I like about kids, is that they grow up fairly. Not with the imagination of stereotypes. They judge people for their character, not because of their color.”
On how he would describe himself: “Old, but I try to be honest. I try to be fair, I try to treat people right. By their character more so than by appearance. It is pride to be my race. I don’t have anything to be ashamed of my race. Again, so I try to judge people by their character. If they’re good, I am good. If they don’t want to speak, I don’t want to speak. That’s basically it. I would think that people just say that I’m consistent and that I’m honest. I don’t steal, take or try to hurt anybody. I try to keep all the kids safe.”
On how kids see him: “I have always been about the kids and the safety of the kids. Sometimes I think I get a bad reputation. They stereotype me with imagination. It’s okay, it comes with a territory.”
On his childhood:” I grew up in Arlington. My grandfather was a homeowner; he had 25 acres. It is still in our family today. My father was a homeowner, he owned two homes that he paid for, that’s where I grew up in Arlington. I was basically born and raised in this area.”
Family is also an important part of Mr. Henderson’s life. He loves spending time with his little grandchildren, with his family at cookouts, but most importantly, with his wife.
“[My wife] is my one and only,” he smiled.
Mr. Henderson’s wife was born in Eritrea, moved to the Netherlands, and received citizenship there before finally coming to the U.S. where she met Mr. Henderson.
I was excited to hear this and quickly responded, “I am from the Netherlands! Are you planning to visit one day?”
“Well, she says that after I retire, we may hook up our funds – we would sell our home here and move to the Netherlands… She has always talked about it. Even at the beginning of our marriage,” he answered.
“I will happily help her convince you!” I offered.
Mr. Henderson chuckled and gave me a fist bump.
“I’ll make sure to tell her that,” he smiled.
Mr. Henderson might be known as that guy who stands in the cafeteria calling for the end of lunch, but also the man who taught valuable lessons to students without them even knowing.
This is shown by the amount of students that have come back to school and have thanked him for the lessons he has taught them. Some of the more obvious lessons Mr. Henderson has taught is to be on time, to pick your belongings, and to leave your space tidy, but alumni have also said that because of him, they now understand what it means be honest, have integrity and work hard.
“It makes you feel good when kids come back three or four years later because they got a real taste of reality,” Mr. Henderson said.
I couldn’t agree more. Whether he ends up in the Netherlands or not, I know that Mr. Henderson is a person I will not forget anytime soon.
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