An Educator’s Story of Defying the Odds
Narrated by NAfME Member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl with quotes by Wayne Magee
“It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.” — Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
I met Wayne Magee in the spring of 2022 via Zoom. I was invited to serve as the guest speaker for the Eastern Division of the College Band Directors National Association’s (CBDNA) spring meeting for the Small Band Program Working Group to discuss the importance of protecting our mental health as educators in addition to benefitting our students. Wayne and I had some time alone to converse before others joined the meeting. We hit it off immediately as I was captivated by his charisma and fascinated by his story.
At birth, Wayne was diagnosed with cleidocranial dysplasia (CCD), a rare genetic skeletal disorder that affects teeth and bones, such as the skull, face, spine, collarbones, and legs. One in 1-million people are born with this condition. For reference, actor Gaten Matarazzo, who plays the character of Dustin Henderson in the television show “Stranger Things,” was also born with cleidocranial dysplasia. The actor’s disorder was incorporated into the show’s storyline.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “The bones in people with CCD might be formed differently or might be more fragile than normal, and certain bones such as collarbones may be absent.” Specifically, CCD affected Wayne’s denture formation, clavicle, and fontanelle development. In addition to CCD, Wayne also suffered from recurrent respiratory conditions. Due to these extensive medical challenges, Wayne’s family was told that he may not experience life beyond the age of two years old.
“Not only did I have physical limitations at birth, but I also had life-threatening respiratory challenges and was often hospitalized. The majority of my doctors provided a negative diagnosis and said that I would not be more than a vegetable and unable to mentally develop completely. Of course, there were visible complications of my enlarged head, with a big soft spot at the top, and my two clavicles were not developed. I had hundreds of doctor visits and countless surgeries up until I was 18.
I was placed in the Ohio foster care system at four months old and (fortunately) assigned to the home of Ida Magee. She was a deeply religious woman, big in stature and toughness, yet outfitted with the biggest heart imaginable. At first, I believe she was intimidated by me because I literally had strings attached. There were all types of wires, heart monitors, and equipment connected to me, not to mention two or three doctor appointments scheduled each week. Yet, Ida opened her home and heart to me. She cared for me through some very tough times.
Throughout my elementary years, I was an introvert. I was just different. Imagine having to wear a white astronaut-like helmet during gym class. I was bullied and teased. The name-calling was endless: marshmallow head, heart-head, and E.T. to name a few that were kind.”
Through the care, support, and positive outlook of Ida, Wayne developed the toughness to endure the pain. He defied the medical odds and social criticism. He overcame his diagnosis by performing on an instrument, earning the rank of Eagle Scout, and accomplishing academic endeavors. As a young musician, Wayne studied the trumpet and received his Bachelor of Music from Youngstown State University in Ohio. He also earned a master’s degree in Leadership Science from Northeastern University in Boston. Since 2008, Wayne has worked in the University of Massachusetts educational system. He serves as the Director of Bands, Honor Guard, and Drill Team at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy as well as an Assistant Director of Student Residential Life, with a focus on student leadership development. He also has the honor of teaching as an adjunct management faculty member at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts where he enthusiastically teaches courses pertaining to management and organizational behavior.
Wayne’s motto, as inspired by his foster family, is “Take heart, take charge, and get T.O.U.G.H.” Wayne is the author of the book Tough Blows: A Lifelong Journey of Defying the Odds in which he shares a framework for overcoming hardship and conquering challenges.
In his own words, here is Wayne’s acrostic for getting T.O.U.G.H:
“The unwillingness to surrender, to focus and be determined to succeed absent of the cost, is being tenacious. When you commit to a life of tenacity, your commitment is to go the distance, come what may, no matter the storms or obstacles in your path.”
“The application of tenacity is learning to accept being uncomfortable. In living tenaciously, seeking opportunities for personal and professional growth will be the accelerant that will take you to the next level.”
“Nothing of any importance has been accomplished alone. So, armed with tenacity, seek opportunities to grow. Seek unity first with yourself by defining and articulating your goals. Then, seek unity with others who have similar goals or have been where you want to go. You can’t be an army of one. You need a navy of supporters and encouragers to be connected and unified.”
“Once you are tenaciously seeking opportunities coupled in unity, you must find and engage with groups. Having groups of people to which to belong and be motivated is essential. Actively and regularly engaging with people in all stages and levels of your life is equally important. If you are a seed, the groups you are in will be the healthy soil allowing the nutrients for your growth.”
Ask for Help
“Asking for help can be the most difficult step to practice living T.O.U.G.H. Requesting help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a symbol of strength. When you harness yourself with the reminder to ask for help and support, success will be limitless.”
Students and Staff Can Defy the Odds, too!
Wayne believes that his T.O.U.G.H outlook can be applicable to both students and staff, specifically in today’s world. Wayne states:
“A highlight of my day is in those moments when students come to my office to talk through their life challenges and career aspirations. I figuratively walk them through T.O.U.G.H. by sharing examples most relevant to their situations. I have experienced that this frame of mind has changed not only my life but the lives of young people, too. I recently had a student in my office considering leaving college to pursue another path. After listening to him share his feelings and reasonings, I took T.O.U.G.H and restated each point as a question to him. He was able to leave my office with the knowledge and tools to make an informed decision. He was prepared to be tenacious in his decision by seeking opportunities, embracing unity, engaging in groups, and asking for additional help (beyond me) when needed.
Finally, when it comes to us as staff members, teachers, and administrators, we may be the only book our students will read or even receive. We must model T.O.U.G.H for our students, allowing them the chance to hear what we may eloquently say and attempt to teach. We must remember that our behavior is a language, too, and one that may often speak louder than our words. For you, it may be seeking an opportunity to serve as the department head, lead an organization, consider another position, present ideas at a conference, etc. For others, it may mean getting more actively involved in your state or national Music Educators Association. For me, getting T.O.U.G.H most recently meant embracing unity and asking for help as I contemplated further education.”
As learners and leaders, we will all experience our own tough blows along life’s journeys. However, if we are equipped with a T.O.U.G.H frame of mind as encouraged by Wayne, we, along with our students and colleagues, may also bravely and boldly defy the odds. And if you are lucky like I was to meet Wayne, you may also cross paths with a remarkably tough role model who will inspire you while celebrating and supporting you through your unique journey.
About the authors:
Wayne Magee, M.Sc. has served in higher education since 2008 as the Director of Bands at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy as well as an Assistant Director of Student Residential Life, with a focus on student leadership development. He also has the honor of teaching as an adjunct management faculty member at Bridgewater State University (MA) where he teaches courses on management and organizational behavior. Wayne is a passionate speaker and guest conductor. He is the author of the book Tough Blows: A Lifelong Journey of Defying the Odds, as well as a published essayist. Wayne’s writings have appeared in publications of the National College Band Directors Association (CBDNA) and the National Band Association Journal (NBA).
Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl is a champion of mentorship and motivation. Her mission is to encourage individuals to reflect on our professional practices while making key changes to refresh strategies representing a shared vision to enrich the classroom, company, and community. Lori’s unique experiences have permitted her to expand her multifaceted career into a portfolio as a frequent educational consultant, adjudicator, guest conductor, university instructor, and motivational speaker. Her motto is “Embrace Uniqueness!” and she lovingly encourages everyone she meets to do the same.
Lori is the author of nearly 100 educational articles that have been reprinted with permission by more than 10 organizations worldwide. Since 2019, she has had at least one article per year highlighted on the Top-10 Most Accessed Music Education Blogs for the National Association for Music Education, earning the #1 spot in 2022. She designed these mentoring pieces into two graduate courses that she instructs at The University of the Arts (Philadelphia) and VanderCook College of Music (Chicago). She also creates inspirational content for a monthly newsletter emailed to thousands of subscribers. Lori has presented hundreds of professional development sessions and keynote speeches for educational systems and organizations in half of the nation’s states, including at international events. In addition, she has been interviewed for 16 education and leadership podcasts.
Lori has served as a proud educator since 2001. In Pennsylvania, she received the Superintendent’s Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Daniel Boone Area School District, and in Maryland, she was a finalist for the Howard County Parents for School Music Educator of the Year Award and the Howard County Public School System’s Teacher of the Year Award.
Learn more at MakingKeyChanges.com.
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.
October 10, 2023
- Music Education Profession
- Teacher Self Care
October 10, 2023. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)