“I only have a minute. Sixty seconds in it,” began the poem, Ocasio-Cortez’s response to the news that she would have just 60 seconds to speak at the Democratic National Convention next week, in what many saw as a snub. “Forced upon me, I did not choose it, But I know that I must use it.”
Jacobs commented in teacher mode, with encouragement that would go viral — “You’ve got this,” she began, recalling “all those poems we recited together” — and says she started to sob at her desk when Ocasio-Cortez did, in fact, remember second grade.
“Ms. Jacobs! Is that you?!” the lawmaker replied. “ … You prepared me perfectly for this moment.”
“It’s been such an emotional summer,” Jacobs told The Washington Post, saying she’s been feeling exhausted and “completely unheard” amid the mounting pressure for teachers to return to classrooms during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the fan of Shel Silverstein and “Jabberwocky” thought back to all the ways she had worked to incorporate poetry into her kids’ days, holding annual celebrations of the form and compiling anthologies of the work they wrote and read.
“It’s recognition,” she said of Ocasio-Cortez’s response to a self-described “nobody,” whose Twitter following just rocketed from 98 to more than 4,000. “It’s like, ‘Oh, I did have an impact.’ ”
Jacobs, who declined to say where she now teaches, said she did not immediately recognize her old student rising to stardom. She was on a writing retreat in Ireland, she recalled, when Ocasio-Cortez shocked much of the political world and became a national figure by ousting 10-term incumbent Joseph Crowley in the 2018 Democratic primary for her district in New York.
Eventually, Jacobs made the connection, after friends mentioned that Ocasio-Cortez went to school in the city where she taught, Yorktown, N.Y. She checked in her annual “class book” — with pages for each student’s picture and end-of-year note — to be sure.
“There was a girl with this big, beautiful smile, just like she has now, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, it was her,’ ” Jacobs said.
She won’t share the page — that’s just for Ocasio-Cortez, she said.
Before Wednesday, Jacobs said, she had tried get in vain to get in touch with Ocasio-Cortez and share her pride. Jacobs went to a Bernie Sanders rally, but there were too many people to connect; she wanted to go see Ocasio-Cortez at an interview event with legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, but school commitments got in the way.
She says she even tried calling the congresswoman, leaving multiple messages with aides about how excited she was to see what “Sandy” had done with her life.
“I know she’s so busy,” Jacobs would say.
Her viral moment came as school staff are being thrust into stress and uncertainty, struggling with the challenges of shifting learning online or the fears of heading back to potentially packed buildings with a virus spreading. A few hours before her note to Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday, Jacobs had tweeted a poem of her own. She was feeling down.
“In another world I danced with my class
Wrote poetry standing at our classroom window
Laughed at the silly teacher’s drawings on the board.
Today, I sit petrified in front of a screen.
It’s hard to dance alone.
All the unknowing is undoing me.”
Then came the reconnection she says she has wanted to make for years.
“Twitter is like putting a message in the bottle and throwing in the ocean, and you hope that someone will find it,” Jacobs said. “In this case, it landed on a shore somewhere.”