The song playing was “Happy.” But surrounded by students and faculty from
her school of 30 years, Ann Garofalo had to wipe away a tear.
Faculty and about 820 students from Condon Elementary School in South Boston had crowded around the retiring principal during an annual Flag Day celebration Thursday. Garofalo thought the festivities would be limited to dancing, flag waving, and the singing of patriotic numbers such as “God Bless America” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
But when the music ended abruptly, Garofalo, electronically unsavvy by her own admission, was called over to address a technical malfunction. That is when she suspected that something was up, she said.
The Pharrell Williams hit began to play, and a flash mob took hold.
Students clapped and danced in sync, pounding their sneakers into the dirt of the baseball diamond as Garofalo stood in the center. The departing educator began clapping, too, waving her arms in her pink suit. Faculty members held up letters amid a sea of flags, forming the message, “Because we are happy for you!”
The former second-grade teacher has served as principal for 15 years, presiding over shifts in culture and technology. Education became more data-driven, and demographics changed, she said. Nine different languages are spoken in the school’s first-grade class.
A clearly moved Garofalo called her students the best in all of Boston.
“This is a community here,” she said, hugging a student afterward. “I’m going to miss it. I get teary-eyed when I talk about it.”
Representatives from Mayor Martin Walsh’s office, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and the office of US Representative Stephen F. Lynch presented certificates recognizing Garofalo’s service. Students of all ages and sizes hugged her, thanked her, and told her, “I’ll miss you.”
“She’s been a wonderful principal and a great leader, and she’s beloved by the whole community, so we wanted to send her off in style,” student support coordinator Steve Kelly said.
Fifth-grader Brendan Frize remembered sitting in a classroom, struggling to understand a math assignment dealing with factors. Garofalo came to his aid, listing the factors of eight for him.
He was happy to give a proper sendoff to a principal who had been helpful on many occasions.
“I think that Mrs. Garofalo’s face just lit up,” Brendan said.
The principal was not the only one surprised Thursday. Teacher said that expecting elementary pupils to keep such a big secret would be foolish, so the children were told that the performance was for another faculty member. Sure enough, Kelly, the support coordinator, was informed of the flash mob in his honor at least seven times. When faculty identified the real honoree Thursday, students were shocked.
For Garofalo, retirement means spending more time at home in Roslindale. She also hopes to volunteer or tutor at the school.
Later this year, she plans to ride through the Grand Canyon on her and her husband’s Harley-Davidson.
Addressing her students Thursday, she told of her reaction to another surprise of theirs: scrapbooks she received to remember every grade.
“That was so special, and I’ll remember that always,” she said of the performance. “I got a book of all your letters and cards last night, and I’ve been reading them, and it’s made me want to cry, cry with happy tears because I’m so happy that I got to meet all of you.”