Principal’s dramatic haircut inspires students ‘to do the right thing’

Her two grown children may not recognize her at this weekend’s college graduations and Mother’s Day celebration.

Dawn Pickerill, principal at St. John XXIII School, went one year without getting a hair cut. But that changed last week when Pickerill — along with five teachers, 21 girls and nine boys — cut their hair for a cause.

The principal had eight inches cut, enough to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, a program that helps female cancer patients receive free, real-hair wigs.

In all that day, female students and staff at John XXIII donated 64 ponytails that equaled eight wigs — and the boys had their heads shaved in a show of support.

So far, Pantene Beautiful Lengths, which began in July 2006, has donated 42,000 real-hair wigs to the national American Cancer Society Wig Bank.

Pickerill, completing her fourth year at John XXIII, said some of the girls talked to her last year about growing her hair out, then having it cut. What took months to grow was gone in minutes. By stepping forward, Pickerill led by example. If Mrs. Pickerill’s hair grows back, some students may have thought, then I’ll sit in that chair and have my hair cut next year.

“So many girls identify with their hair,” she said. “We are just blessed to have hair and to be able to share it. Just knowing that you were helping someone out. We try to push that here. That’s our mission: ‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’ “

It was important for others to see their principal “living out what we preach here,” she said. “It wasn’t me just bringing in a canned good. I was doing the right thing and all eyes were on me for doing the right thing. I hope I was inspiring them to do the right thing.”

After all, she hopes, her hair will grow back.

“It’s something that God blessed with me with that I can share with somebody else,” she said of her hair.

At John XXIII, students are taught the importance of service projects, she said. The hallways are lined with canned goods that eventually will fill the food pantries served by St. Vincent de Paul. It’s a giving mentality that starts at the top and filters its way to the students, the leaders of tomorrow.

“We are called to give and not just to the people we know,” the principal said. “We are called to love our neighbor. That doesn’t mean the person next door or the person behind us. It means everybody in the whole world. It shouldn’t matter if we know them or not.”

As Pickerill sat in a chair in the middle of John “Butch” Rossi Gymnasium, and the students cheered, she couldn’t help but remember her mother. It was 10 days until Mother’s Day and she instantly thought about her mother, Carol Gott, who died five years ago from pancreatic cancer, one of the most aggressive forms.

Her 73-year-old mother never lost her hair. She never had time for chemotherapy treatments.

The “loss of my mother still impacts me,” said Pickerill, the smile gone from her face. “She’s always on my mind.”

And around her neck. When she got her hair cut, Pickerill wore a “special necklace,” a gift she received after her mother died.

“She was right there with me,” she said.

This weekend, Pickerill and her husband, Ted, will be right there with their children. Their daughter, Alexandra, 25, receives her law degree from Ohio State University and their son, Christopher, 22, receives his degree from Miami University.

She called it “a great weekend to be a mom.”

Then she went from Mrs. Pickerill to Mom.

“This is what you hope for,” she said. “You hope they will grow up, make good choices, do the right thing, be successful and they have been all that.”

Sometimes the best Mother’s Day present is given because of the example set by the person in the mirror.

Even if that hair cut makes them harder to recognize.

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