The worst of the awful moments was the day Brooke Fallon fell asleep in class. That's the one she might remember as the beginning of the end, except that Marion Ginopolis gave her a new start.

Fallon was 17 and miserable. Stress at home, strife at Oxford High School, no respite and no rest anywhere.

So she fell asleep at her desk, and when the bell didn't wake her, neither did the teacher. He let Fallon slumber into the next period so that when her eyes finally opened, everyone else's were focused on her.

Perfect. She was already bored and stifled, and now she was humiliated. "You're a jerk," she thought. "You made an example of me, and I'm a kid."

She was out of there. Out of the building, out of high school, maybe headed toward out-of-options, if not that day then soon.

Except that an adult stepped in. Not just any adult, but the superintendent of the whole district. The 17-year-old never forgot it, and a few weeks ago, she sent Ginopolis an email.

"Honestly," Ginopolis says, "it brought tears to me eyes."

"You believed in me," it said, "and gave me hope."

"It is a gift and a joy," it said, "to share what I learned from you."

"Thank you from the bottom of my heart," it said, "for making a difference in my life."

It was signed by Brooke Fallon-Schaffer. Or, as she's known at work, Dr. Fallon.

Seeing the potential

Ginopolis is the superintendent these days in Lake Orion. Fallon, 33, is an audiologist.

Ginopolis didn't just keep her in high school; she found a way for Fallon to graduate a semester early. What could have been a GED and maybe community college became a diploma and a direction.

Fallon rumbled through her bachelor's degree at Wayne State in four years, then a doctorate in four more. She lives and practices in Macomb Township, where "I have learned not to give up on my patients," she told Ginopolis, "even if they have given up on themselves."

She grew up in comfort, but not ease. From middle school onward, she chafed at what seemed like silly rules at home and even more so at school.

Why did she have to sit still? Why did she need someone's approval to use the restroom? Why couldn't she wear a hat?

Her parents would drop her off in front of the high school and she'd walk out the back. Her transcript was an academic strip mine.

"She just didn't fit," Ginopolis recalls. "That happens with a lot of kids. I wanted her to know she had potential, and that she couldn't give up on herself."

It's not common for superintendents, Ginopolis concedes, but she likes to get involved with kids. For Fallon, she fashioned a program that involved daytime classes at Oxford High and night classes in a neighboring district, with a goal Fallon could embrace: escaping as quickly as possible.

"In a world of no, no, no," Fallon says, "she said yes."

Sometimes that's the only word a person needs to hear.

Not stuck in a mold

Fallon has two adorable kids and an engineer husband she met on who has, coincidentally, progressive hearing loss.

She picked up on that the night they met, but couldn't figure out a tactful way to ask about it. When she finally did, Rob Schaffer laughed: "I thought you must be a dumb audiologist."

She uses her dad's parents' last name because they always gave her love and hope and sometimes gave her shelter. She likes to quote Helen Keller, who said, "Blindness separates us from things, but deafness separates us from people."

She uses a hearing aid herself to help cope with tinnitus, and it's hot pink so that everyone can see it. She has her daughter's name tattooed on the inside of her right wrist, and a starburst atop her right foot. Her fingernails are painted metallic gold.

She was not the standard student and she is probably not the standard audiologist, but she is dedicated and she is grateful.

"I practice proudly and compassionately," Fallon told Ginopolis.

Ginopolis does the same, and she'll tell you stories like Fallon's are the reason why.


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