Jabr Abu-Halimah and Julie Mullane
Jabr Abu-Halimah and Julie Mullane

Rutherford County Schools

The question was unexpected.

The answer was obvious.

After being accepted to the University of Chicago, like all incoming freshmen, Jabr Abu-Halimah (known simply as J.J.) was asked by the admissions office if there was a teacher who had a profound impact on his education.

He did not have to contemplate his response.

Without hesitating, he answered, “Julie Mullane.”

Mullane is a science teacher at Central Magnet School and developed a special bond with Abu-Halimah.

Because schools were in class on March 13 and never resumed until the start of the new school year, Mullane had never gotten to properly say goodbye or good luck. The letter and care package from the university and, more importantly, the recognition from Abu-Halimah made her smile.

She was pretty sure he had thought of their bond the same she did; and her selection for the University of Chicago’s Outstanding Educator Award certainly went a long way toward confirming her suspicion.

“He’s always been just a special student to me and so that was a continuation of that feeling I had for that young man,” said Mullane, who shared a quirky sense of humor with Abu-Halimah. “When I got that email, it was like just another little link with a really special student.

The university has acknowledged the outstanding educators of their incoming freshmen for more than three decades. A virtual celebration for the educators will be held Oct. 21. Guest speakers include university president Robert Zimmer.

Abu-Halimah chose Chicago because of its ranking and because smaller class sizes allow for more one-on-one instruction. He also noted the rigor and opportunities offered at Chicago.

Like his father, a cardiologist, Abu-Halimah will major in biochemistry and eventually plans to attend medical school. He hopes to become an orthopedic surgeon, a decision he made after suffering a knee injury — a radial meniscus tear — that kept him off the track team his sophomore year of high school.

Mullane said she’s not usually an emotional person — though she can be passionate —but the warmth she felt from his naming her “almost makes your eyes water.”

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