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Lesser-known Gatlin treats third session to lessons in life

LaDonna may not be the most famous Gatlin namesake, but it's one Illinois school officials may remember best from now on.

The younger sister of country music's famous brotherly trio, LaDonna Gatlin wowed the Triple I Conference with her resonant alto voice as well as her passionate support for public education.

"I'm the Gatlin you've never heard of," the petite singer joked with the audience at the outset. But those who closed out Sunday's final session knew they were in for a treat when she belted out favorites, not only from her brothers' song list, but from a variety of artists like Barbra Streisand, Oliva Newton-John, Tammy Wynette and Julie Andrews.

Seeing the latter on a big movie screen in the mid-60s was the inspiration for her to become a singer, Gatlin said, but the way Andrews' character, Maria Von Trapp, lived her life was also an inspiration.

Building on the popular "Do Re Mi" from "The Sound of Music," Gatlin went on to use "solfege" - syllables for teaching music essentials - as a way to think about what's essential in life.

"Do ... doing the right thing means reaching down inside to tap our moral compass and make the right decisions," Gatlin said. It took 15 years for her brother Larry to truly understand why she chose raising her family over an on the road, big-time music career. But after his own recovery from alcohol and drug problems, she said, "he told me he understood why and that I had done the right thing."

Making right decisions begins with leadership, she said. "You hire the superintendent ... hire the best and then understand the value of the role you play."

For her, "re" is realizing potential. She's grateful to her parents for realizing that they had four children who could sing, and who encouraged them and believed in them.

"Some kids don't have that at home, so they depend on school (teachers) to appreciate their potential."

"Mi" adds an "n" and a "d" to remind people to mind their manners. "If you say please and thank you and tell the truth, then you don't have to remember so much."

"Fa" begins the saying, "Failure can be turned into fertilizer." It's not the mistakes people make, but their ability to learn from them that makes the difference in life, Gatlin said.

"Sol" stands for "solutions begin with me," she said. "Be the solver, not the problem.

"La" begins "laughter," which is the therapeutic and a "great stress buster."

And by the time Gatlin got to "ti," she was running short on "time," which led her to an inspiring rendition of some of her favorite songs, which proved to be favorites with the audience as well.

After sharing the personal story of how her own daughter received assistance from her high school when she found out she was pregnant, Gatlin closed with one of her favorite hymns, "Amazing Grace."

As she closed out the 2003 Triple I Conference, Gatlin encouraged the crowd to take her lessons home and use them on a daily basis to do their best by Illinois children:

"You have your own song to sing," she said, "through your words and your deeds."



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