Looking around, the room was filled with women in stunning gowns, the sequins sparkling almost as much as the smiles on their faces. The men, in their tuxedos and bow ties, were standing tall, clearly proud to be part of the glamour.
I had heard the stories about what this event would be like, but nothing could have prepared me for the incredible experience that was the Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year Gala. Surrounded by more than 70 of the state’s district teachers of the year and their guests, it felt surreal that there was a chance I could be selected as the next Florida Teacher of the Year.
As I walked onto the stage with the other finalists, I tried to wrap my head around how significantly one of our lives was about to change. I felt my heart pounding in my chest as I stood shoulder to shoulder with four of Florida’s finest teachers. As Governor Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott were handed the envelope, I prayed that the evening’s excitement would not send me into labor!
In an instant, a burst of confetti clouded the stage, the background music grew louder, and the enthusiastic cheers from the audience invaded the momentary silence as I heard, “Jessica Solano!” Immediately I squeezed my eyes shut and rushed my hands to my face, trying to brace myself from the shock of hearing my name called as the 2017 Florida Teacher of the Year. All at once, I felt a flood of emotions. Out of more than 175,000 public school teachers in Florida, I had been selected to serve as the statewide advocate for educators and students. In that moment, I realized my life would never be the same.
Just one week later, my life changed again – this time in the form of a precious 6 pound, 12 ounce baby boy! Little Oliver Stanford Solano made us a family of four, and I cherished every moment – from our time in the hospital to bringing him home and celebrating each new milestone. This has been an amazing year and, with each passing day, I continue to feel more humbled by the fact that I have the honor of representing such a noble profession whose members will impact the futures of all of our children.