SLP Valentine

Valentine 101

I want to begin with a story. In January of 1985, I was a kindergartner at R.F. Hartman Elementary School. I carried home a note from school saying that I needed to bring Valentines to school. As the eldest child of Vietnamese refugees living in rural Wylie, Texas, my Bá and I made our best guesses. With the smattering of red hearts in the classroom and romantic holiday commercials shown during my dedicated viewings of Growing Pains, my 6-year-old brain knew that I needed to make red or pink hearts. Lots and lots of them. So, Bá drove me to a local drug store, and he paid for the ream of construction paper I carefully selected—the cheapest one.

Valentine Fail

I arrived home to our two bedroom mobile home, sat on the floor and began to carefully cut the hearts. My need for symmetry and perfection reigned, and each heart was absolute perfection. Once I was surrounded by a few dozen hearts, I began to glue the identical pieces together in a perfect row. My evening efforts culminated in 6 masterpieces, and I was proud of my work.

The next morning, Bá walked me into school. Down the long hallway, I saw 60 white bags hung, each with the students’ personalized kindergarten artistry. I saw the bag I decorated the week prior, I saw my peers stuffing each bag with small, white envelopes and I saw that I messed up. I only had enough for 6 friends. In my Asian hands were the stupid hearts I cut out. The ache I felt was big. Nonetheless, the twinge of fault on my father’s face was bigger. The confident former naval captain who navigated 55 people and himself across the South China Sea following the fall of Vietnam looked defeated. He failed his child because he did not understand the words on the paper sent home from school. We failed.

Valentine Love

In that moment, my favorite kindergarten teacher walked up to us. Ms. Beverly Minahan squatted down to my level, clasped her hands and said, “Phuong! Those are the most beautiful Valentine’s I have ever seen! Which of your lucky friends will get one?” With the sole effort of one human and one statement, my heart soared. I began to put my heART work into the bags of my six favorite peers. Becky Crane got one! Sarah Parker got one!

As I sit here in February of 2019, more than three decades later, this story continues to resonate with the work I do as a speech-language pathologist supporting the comprehensive needs of our diverse populations. The kind sentiments of Ms. Minahan fuels my daily work. She reminds me, through my own personal narrative, that we are so very capable of serving our humans with relevancy and value.

In closing, I will say this again and again.  The individuals we serve have diverse needs, and we may not always speak their native language.  However, as speech-language pathologists, we all speak the language of kindness.  And this is a wonderful thing.

Written by: phuonglienpalafox

16 Comments on “SLP Valentine”

  1. February 15, 2019 at 7:23 am #

    This made me cry. So grateful for the good people, the empathetic teachers in our lives. They make all the difference.

    • February 15, 2019 at 7:59 am #

      Saima, the story makes me cry every time I think about it. Years later, during my senior year in high school, I tracked down Ms. Minahan. She was working at another elementary school. I effusively thanked her. Little did I know that her kindness would serve as the foundation of my professional career with a new generation of children. Good people are everywhere. Take care, Phuong.

  2. February 15, 2019 at 8:24 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. It did bring tears to my eyes, but also joy and hope by showing the tremendous impact that even a small act of kindness can have. As a bilingual SLP, I will continue to practice the language of kindness as I interact with all of the children and their families that come into my life. Thank you again! You are always such an inspiration to me.

    • February 15, 2019 at 8:35 am #

      Hi Belinda! I agree with you whole-heartedly–one small act can make SUCH a meaningful difference. Gut tells me that your students and their families are in good, compassionate hands under your SLP-eyes and heart. Love to Judson ISD and thank you for your continued efforts. – Phuong

  3. February 15, 2019 at 8:43 am #

    This also brought tears to my eyes. I love this, thank you for sharing such a great story. What a great reminder for us as practitioners to always speak the language kindness.

    • February 15, 2019 at 10:41 am #

      Ellie, kindness and stories are wonderful tools for our work as SLPs. Thank YOU for your kind words. – Phuong

  4. February 15, 2019 at 8:53 am #

    This story is touching and has great impact on perspective and kindness. I have added information into my undergrad course dealing with cultural competence and compassion. Do you mind if I share your story? Thank you.
    Best regards

    • February 15, 2019 at 10:49 am #


      I am SO happy to hear that your students are receiving information on cultural competence and compassion! For me, I always go back to the three aspects of Evidence-Based Practice per ASHA: 1) research, 2) professional/expert opinion and 3) client/student/family perspective. I talk about the value and relevancy of the third component…for me, it’s the human component. Kindness, stories (through literacy-based interventions AND hearing the stories of our clients/students/families) and SLP brains and hearts go a looonong way. Thank you for doing what you do at Freedonia. Share away. Here’s to our continued work changing the world. – Phuong

  5. February 15, 2019 at 9:30 am #

    Great story! Teachers change lives! We educate all! Thanks for sharing your story!

    • February 15, 2019 at 10:41 am #


      Educators surely change lives. How lucky are we to be a part of our students’ narratives.


  6. February 15, 2019 at 3:50 pm #

    Dear Phuong,
    ……………………………..Can we get this on a T-Shirt?!! Like, ASAP!

    • February 15, 2019 at 4:35 pm #

      Jo Ann, you brought a big smile to the end of my week! How about this?! If shirts are ever made, you will be the first to have one. In the meantime, I will leave you with this Friday creation:

      The words you speak and whisper and say
      Tis merely a communication jump start
      The actions you do with kindness and love
      Will surely imprint on the heart

      Heart on, Jo Ann.

  7. Sarah Wu February 15, 2019 at 10:53 pm #

    Amazing story <3 Brought me to tears!

    • February 18, 2019 at 10:19 am #

      Thank you, Sarah. I used this story with my students last week, and it was amazing to hear them answering questions, making inferences and making meaningful connections.

  8. February 16, 2019 at 2:21 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    • February 18, 2019 at 10:18 am #

      Stories make the world go ’round. 🙂

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