SIERRA VISTA — “Before I came here tonight, I shaved my head as a symbol of mourning in the Muslim tradition,” a tearful Hakim Mansour said while addressing Sierra Vista Unified School District’s governing board Tuesday evening.
Monsour, a popular English teacher at Buena High School, is retiring after three decades at the school that he calls his second home.
In a passionate address to the school board, Mansour said he is mourning the loss of 16-year-old Buena student Mario Lopez who died earlier this summer.
“The same day that Mario died I came to Kelly (Segal) and gave her these letters of resignation,” said Mansour as he held up copies of the letter. “Then I went to the park where there was a vigil for Mario.”
He spoke of holding Mario’s mother during the vigil, of how both were consumed with grief.
“This was a time for mourning, especially for the wonderful mother,” he said. “I saw her there, and I went to her, and for five minutes we were holding each other. That again, is a tradition in North Africa.”
Mansour spoke of how he is also mourning the loss of all the students he will never see again after leaving Buena.
“For three decades my life was a classroom,” he said, tears running down his face.
Mansour is retiring two years earlier than he had expected because of health issues from an injury he sustained while hiking in Miller Canyon in 2017. He now walks with a cane because of pain in his back and knee.
“I escaped death in Miller Canyon when I broke my knee after being pinned down under a boulder, face down in freezing water. I managed to extricate myself and limped out of the canyon,” he recalled.
Mansour credits his students for giving him hope through a long rehabilitation, which went from a wheelchair, to a walker to a cane.
“The encouragement of my students gave me strength to endure such hardship.”
After going through a painful back surgery in 2018, once again Mansour was surrounded by students who helped him heal.
“Through it all, my wonderful students provided me with the genuine care and love to help me endure.”
Buena student Hassan Kahn was one of Mansour’s ninth-grade English students. Hassan attended Tuesday’s board meeting to speak on behalf of his teacher.
“In the past two years, Mr. Mansour has dealt with many injuries to his legs and has recently dealt with sciatica. But even though he was in pain, he still came to school. He came to school because of his students. “So, even in pain, his students were his biggest priority. That level of dedication is what I find to be truly amazing. Now I believe that he can retire peacefully, knowing that he did whatever he could for his students,” he said.
School Board President Barbara Williams also praised Mansour.
“Hakim stands out because of his total devotion, not only to the school, but to his students and their welfare. He is the kind of teacher that students will go to when they want to talk to an adult. His students truly admire him, and I know he will be missed.”
As he looks toward the next stage in his life, Mansour, plans to return to his homeland of Tunisia in North Africa to visit his family.
“I am going back to Tunisia to see my brother. The light is fading from his eyes, and he wants to see me,” he explained to the board.
After returning from Tunisia, he plans to buy an adobe home in Naco where he will spend his retirement years.
After he spoke, Mansour passed almonds around to those in the meeting and spoke of how the tough, outer shell of an almond is symbolic of the outer shell of humans.
‘“This is us, all of us,” he said while holding up an almond for the room to see. “It is hard on the outside ... bite along the crack to expose the almond.”
Once the outer shell is removed, the soft inner part of the almond is symbolic of what humans are like inside.
“The inside of the almond is nice, crunchy and beautiful,” he said. “So, we are like almonds ... First and foremost, you must love yourself unconditionally. You must love who are and who you are not. And love others unconditionally. Love them for who they are, and who they are not.”
Mansour said that he believes that unconditional love for others is the key to happiness.
In his letter of resignation, he said the decision to retire did not come easily for him.
“After months of sleepless nights, as my mind took me, and still does, on a rollercoaster of emotions, this definitely is the toughest decision to make.”
The school board approved Mansour’s retirement request, as well as waiving two penalties he faced for breaking his contract.