Lee Mitchell entered the Excelsior Auditorium and looked around. The next day, many of his former students and colleagues, along with several local government officials, would gather here to celebrate Mitchell’s achievements and success with his students, whom he taught about music and life. But today was more intimate.
“I love this building,” said Mitchell with a smile, as he entered the auditorium.
Mitchell began his career in the community as a band director in the Norwalk-La Mirada School District in the early 1970’s, working with elementary school students. His long Journey would see him move his way up through Centennial Intermediate School, Excelsior High School, and eventually John Glenn High School, where he would remain for the rest of his career.
He says one of his greatest achievements was revitalizing the music program in the district.
“For my own personal gratification, through the Norwalk-La Mirada School District and the City of Norwalk, I had the opportunity to fulfil my professional dreams as a band director,” said Mitchell.
According to Mitchell, he had two goals as a band director – to play for a president and to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade.
He got to do one, playing for President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. He fell short just a handful of band members to qualify to fulfill the other.
More than just music however, Mitchell is widely known for his intimate life lessons that he would instill on his students.
“I used to tell them about circumstances; if you do things you have to think ‘what are the circumstances gonna be, what’s the result of your actions,’” said Mitchell. “I taught them more about life than just music…I taught them respect, self-respect, respect your elders.”
Mitchell was praised and honored on Saturday by many of those who he taught and mentored during his storied 40-year career.
It was NWLMSD Board member Darryl Adams who originally proposed that the district honor Mitchell by renaming the auditorium in his honor.
“I see it two-fold…I see Lee Mitchell the man, as the educator [and] band director, and the legacy he left of supporting the arts…his legacy is he taught them [his students] to reach further.”
Initially, Adams had suggested that the auditorium be renamed after Mitchell. However, the proposition drew a lot of heat, especially from alumni of the school, who sought to maintain the historical integrity of the long-closed school’s auditorium.
The School Board instead opted to compromise with a plaque installation.
Still, Mitchell described the honor as “the greatest thing in the world.”
“[This building has] a lot of history; self-fulfillment,” said Mitchell. “Seeing kids walk in here not being excited about education, and then when they graduated from Excelsior – knowing that I had a part of it, and the history of the school – [it’s] very fulfilling.”