Manatee residents celebrate the opening of Dr. Mona Jain Middle School
More than 300,000 hours of work are behind Dr. Mona Jain Middle School, a campus built with nearly 200,000 concrete blocks and more than a million pounds of steel.
And though Manatee County’s newest middle school will open on Monday, the true building has just begun.
“It is just now beginning to build its traditions,” said James Golden, a school board member. “It is just now beginning to build its history. It is just now beginning to build its legacy.”
Golden was one of several people to speak at Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, which honored not only the school’s opening, but also the importance of sincerity, integrity, humility, courtesy, wisdom and charity.
Such principles are embodied by the school’s namesake, who sat in the front row of Thursday’s ceremony, a gleam in her eyes and a smile on her face.
“Dr. Mohinder ‘Mona’ Jain has earned doctorate degrees in both the arts and in the sciences,” Golden said. “She is a world-renowned educator who has taught in three continents. She is a human rights activist, second to none. She is a loving wife and a devoted mother.”
Guests were showered in flower petals when they entered the lunchroom, a loving gesture in Indian culture. Special guests received a green and gold “stole” — garments that resemble a long scarf — to drape across their necks and over their shoulders.
School officials began the ceremony by lighting the “Lamp of Learning,” a symbol of fading ignorance, burgeoning knowledge and thriving peace. It was a celebration of the new middle school and the inspiration behind its name, but when Jain spoke on Thursday afternoon, she gave praise to others.
She dedicated the school to all of Manatee County, especially its students, parents and educators. She impacted generations of young men and women, and it seems they left a similar mark on Jain.
“I’m honored, humbled and touched,” she said. “When your hometown recognizes you, it has a special meaning.”
The school, constructed with a budget of $45 million and a capacity for more than 1,100 students, will open on Monday.
Many of the students who graduate from Mona Jain Middle will be leaders in the community, the country and even the world. Jain offered a motto to guide them: “Unity in diversity.”
“Manatee County has been home to us for the last 55-plus years, and I always believed that one person can change maybe one thing, but all of us can change everything in a positive way if we work together,” she said. “This school is not because my name is there. I feel each one of us are equal contributors.”
Diana Michel is one of Jain’s former students. They met at Bayshore High School in 1980, and Jain taught her the importance of education, one of the few things she could rely on throughout life.
Michel described Jain as a positive, no-nonsense mentor who always pushed her to dream and push harder.
“She was the toughest teacher I had by far — very intimidating, but also very inspiring,” Michel said. “She was the champion for education long before it was popular.”