MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This week’s Excellent Educator is loved so much, the entire school wanted to be in on the surprise.

Students — past and present — and colleagues filled the hallway at St. John the Baptist Catholic Parish and School in Excelsior to cheer for Mary Cates, who has spent practically her whole life at the school and has made a lasting impact.

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Over the years, countless kindergarteners have filed in and out of Cates’ classroom.

“My first kindergarten class has graduated from college, so it’s been awhile,” she said.

Before becoming a teacher, the life-long Excelsior resident was a student herself at St. John’s, then sent her own kids to the school. But her days spent between these walls are coming to a close, because after 38 years of teaching, Cates is retiring.

“I won’t be in the classroom next year, but I’ll always be a part of St. John’s,” Cates said. “It’s hard. My shirt says I’m joyful. I am joyful for everything I’ve been able to share with this community.”

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When asked what she’ll miss the most, she immediately said her students.

“The wonderful, wonderful kids. Look at their faces, that’s what makes the job,” she said.

Cates says she’ll also miss her school family, and it’s clear they’ll miss her too. The entire school came to her classroom doorstep to congratulate her on the award.

“It’s what I’ve always wanted, to make a difference in the kids’ lives,” Cates said. “And this is telling me maybe I did.”

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