It’s hardly surprising that some teachers want to maintain certain levels of discretion when it comes to their personal lives. After all, it’s weird enough when you find out your teacher’s first name – surely they’ve only ever been called Mr. or Mrs.? With that said, however, one educator was perhaps more determined than most to keep his private affairs, well, private.
Christopher Landis has been a choirmaster at Hingham Middle School, Massachusetts, for six years now. And during his time at the establishment, Landis has proven himself to be a popular role model for his students. Not only that, but he’s even established himself as a big hit with some of the parents, too.
But it isn’t just the pupils and their parents who enjoy Landis’ presence at Hingham Middle; the teacher himself has always been thankful to be a part of the school’s community as well. In fact, in January 2019 he told Boston 25 News that he believes he’s incredibly lucky to have been given the chance to educate kids at Hingham Middle. That’s because it’s a place in which he feels truly appreciated and valued.
But December 2016 was a particularly special time for the choir director. You see, on Christmas Eve that year, Landis and his partner, Joe Michienzie, got engaged. The teacher decided to keep the happy news from his students, however, for fear of how they might respond. In fact, the kids didn’t know that Landis even had a partner, let alone that he was in a same-sex relationship.
So, Landis found a way of dealing with questions from his pupils that circled around his love life. In 2019 he revealed to Inside Edition exactly how he introduced Michienzie – who works as a tailor – to his students. Landis explained, “The kids will ask, ‘Who is that?’ I’ll say, ‘That’s Joe. He’s my friend.’” And for the teacher, this seemed to be the most appropriate way to handle the children’s curiosity.
Landis continued, “It just hit me here that I always referred to [Michienzie] as my friend because I wasn’t sure how the kids would take it – or the parents.” But as Landis had separated Michienzie and his relationship from his professional life for so long, what happened next understandably left him completely dumbfounded.
Unbeknownst to Landis, word somehow got out at school about his upcoming nuptials. And when two of his students’ mothers, Joy Foraste and Margit Foley, heard the news, they were delighted. What’s more, they decided that the event couldn’t go uncelebrated in the school. As a consequence, then, the two moms started hatching plans to surprise the teacher.
“At the end of the summer, Margit and I heard [Landis] was getting married,” Foraste told The New York Times in 2019. “He’s the best teacher, and he’s got this great energy, and he makes every school function fun. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome to do something for his wedding?’”
So, having covertly roped in the help of Landis’ fiancé, the moms started organizing their scheme. They began by emailing the other parents whose children were also in the choir – although they stuck to kids in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Then they asked each parent if their child would be interested in being involved in a surprise for Landis’ upcoming wedding.
At the same time, though, Foraste and Foley made sure that the children didn’t feel as if they were under any obligation to jump on board. And with that in mind, the mothers sent out the emails, expecting just a few replies – and even fewer yeses.
Furthermore, the emails had been sent during the Christmas rush – something that had given the mothers cause for concern. After all, how many parents and children would actually be able to commit at such a busy time of year? Understandably, then, the moms weren’t expecting a huge turnout. “We hoped we’d get at least 15 kids to do it,” Foraste told The New York Times.
But to Foraste and Foley’s amazement, they signed up 50 of the choir members – an incredible achievement in itself. Still, the work was far from over, as then the students had to get ready for the singing performance of a lifetime. They didn’t have long before the big day, either.
In fact, there was just a month to go until the nuptials, and so the choir met up frequently during that period. The students had to take time out of their weekends to rehearse, too, secretly meeting on Sunday evenings in a library in Norwell, MA, to perfect their chosen song. Yet the kids weren’t alone in their efforts.
You see, Dona Maher – a piano and singing tutor and one of Landis’ colleagues – was also only too happy to help out and guide the kids on their undercover quest. That mission was so top secret, in fact, that when it came to the big day, some of the students had to lie about their whereabouts to get out of school.
But when and where were the students set to perform? Well, the choir was due to make its surprise appearance at Landis and Michienzie’s rehearsal brunch. That event was being held on December 21 – the day before the wedding – at a restaurant called Tavern on the Wharf in Plymouth, MA. And a bartender at the establishment had been asked to film the joyous proceedings.
Meanwhile, weeks had been spent in rehearsals – even during out-of-school hours. It’s worth noting, too, that cutting class is a serious offense at Hingham Middle, and so some students had risked getting in real trouble with their principal in order to attend the celebrations. All in all, then, an awful lot of effort had been put into this special moment. And with only one half of the couple in the know, it was now time to give Landis the surprise of his life.
The footage of the event – which has since gone viral – begins with Landis and Michienzie nonchalantly sipping cocktails and surrounded by their guests. The clip then cuts to a horde of students filing in – a sight which leaves Landis visibly perplexed. And it’s not long before tears start springing to his eyes, leaving him seemingly forced to turn away.
Then Michienzie – apparently touched by his future spouse’s reaction – begins to tenderly rub his back in support. But once Landis has composed himself and turned around, it’s Michienzie’s turn to cry. And, eventually, both of the men are laughing through their happy tears.
Then, ever a responsible teacher, Landis immediately reprimands the kids – in a light-hearted manner, of course. “You guys are supposed to be in school,” he says to them, while looking at his watch. “How did you guys get out?” Nevertheless, Landis goes on to introduce his guests to the children, who prepare in turn to start singing.
And so the piano finally sounds, cuing in the students, who begin chanting “Love, love, love.” Have you guessed what song it is yet? Of course, it’s “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles – an unquestionably romantic song. Love Actually, anyone? But although there aren’t any members of an orchestra hidden in the crowd – as is the case in the classic rom-com – the moment is definitely just as special.
The size of the choir is striking, too, as it sings while standing under the twinkling lights inside the tavern. The kids are arranged in a horseshoe formation around their pianist; there are three rows of them giving it their all. And the track really reaches its crescendo on the last chorus, when the students’ beautiful voices completely fill the venue.
You can imagine the round of applause that greets the children, then, after their rendition has drawn to a close. And Landis walks straight up to them, beaming with joy and proudly introducing the students to his friends and family again. “You guys, these are my kids!” he says, visibly overwhelmed by what his precious pupils have done for him.
Then one of the mothers then stands up. She’s armed with a bunch of flowers for the music teacher, and she consequently fills him in on what has been going on over the past few weeks. “They’ve been practicing every Sunday night,” she reveals. “We just love you so much. We really wanted to do something special for you.”
And Landis later told Inside Edition about the range of emotions he had felt when he had spotted the kids walking into the restaurant. “I saw the first student come in, and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness,’ but I don’t think it hit me until all of these students came in, and they were smiling and all dressed up,” he recalled. “Then I started crying, and they started crying.”
Furthermore, Landis was taken aback by just how much effort had gone into the surprise. “I was flabbergasted by how much they cared,” he told The New York Times. Indeed, when one of the parents in the video reveals how frequently the kids had been practicing, the teacher screams with amazement.
But for Landis, his students’ gesture may have much wider repercussions – particularly when it comes to kids who are attempting to get to grips with their own sexual orientations. “As a middle-school teacher, I see students struggling so much with trying to figure out who they are,” he told The New York Times.
“Some of the students singing have inner struggles and things I know about going on at home,” Landis went on to tell the publication. “I was so glad they were there, feeling the love in the room and knowing everything’s going to be okay – that things do work out.”
In addition, the performance reaffirmed Landis’ philosophy that the classroom should be a safe space where students feel listened to and understood. Naturally, then, as the choirmaster told Inside Edition, it was touching for him to see his pupils offering him that same respect. And the children’s performance had yet another consequence: it has made Landis feel more at ease about discussing his relationship with them, too.
Ever since the students serenaded him, in fact, Landis has been openly admitting to them that Michienzie is his spouse. “I felt like when the kids came to sing, they were basically saying, ‘It’s okay. We know who Joe is.’ So now I say, ‘Joe, my husband,’” he revealed.
And Landis now feels more blessed than ever to be a part of such a special school. “This heartfelt expression of joy, acceptance and, most of all, love shown by the families, students and fellow faculty members is just a testament to how lucky I truly am,” he told Boston 25 News.
After all, openness and respect are important concepts for children to learn – perhaps just as crucial as all that algebra and spelling. “I am so grateful and fortunate to work in a place where love and acceptance is a cornerstone of the education process,” Landis continued. What’s more, now he can enjoy teaching there without having to resort to false pretenses.
Meanwhile, the school has since shared the video of Landis’ special moment on its Facebook page as a mark of pride for its pupils and teachers. The caption alongside the clip says, “The Hingham Middle School Junior Choral Spectrum surprised their teacher, Mr. Christopher Landis, at his wedding rehearsal brunch just a few weeks ago.”
“Our students practiced every Sunday for a month to get ready for the surprise,” the caption continues. “Thanks to… parents Joy Foraste and Margit Foley for organizing this touching moment. Congratulations to Christopher and Joe on their wedding! All of us here… wish you nothing but happiness!” And the sweet post clearly made a big impression online.
Just four days after the video had been uploaded, in fact, it had already racked up over 425,000 views. Now, it’s been watched over a million times, while the post itself has been shared by around 7,000 people and has amassed more than 1,000 comments. The footage has gone well and truly viral, it seems – proving, perhaps, that love is infectious after all.
It’s fair to say, too, that the moment didn’t just touch the hearts of those who know and love Landis, as internet users far and wide have all expressed their joy after learning of the heartwarming story. One commenter wrote, for instance, “I wasn’t planning on sobbing, but this just made me all emotional. What a special surprise. Kudos to the supportive school, kids and families that can allow this teacher to live openly.”
For others, meanwhile, the moving tale seems to have reaffirmed their faith in humanity. One user expressed such a sentiment, saying, “Just when you start believing the world is full of hate, amazing kids, teachers and parents blow you away. Congrats, Mr. Landis and Joe!” In addition, another commenter wrote, “What a wonderful surprise! [It] brought a tear to my eye knowing our kids are the hope for America’s future.” And let’s hope that said future is one in which everyone is comfortable enough to be themselves – just as Landis now feels.
But Landis is far from the only person to have found himself in a position in which he felt unable to talk about his sexuality. Take Daniel Gray, for instance, for whom coming out to his students was also an enormous and terrifying step. He was teaching at Harris Academy in South London, England, when LGBT History Month came around – and so he seized the opportunity.
In particular, Gray decided to make his reveal through a video that he would show across the school. And in that clip, the media teacher begins by addressing general points about LGBT History Month before looking straight into the camera for his big moment. There, he continues, “As a gay man, I know how important it is to have positive role models.” Finally, then, Gray had come out to his students; all he had to do now was wait anxiously to see how they would react.
But to Gray’s delight, his announcement couldn’t have been better received. One student, for instance, approached him after seeing the video and simply said, “Sir, your assembly has changed my life”; another child high-fived him. And it didn’t stop there. Subsequently, Gray’s colleagues designed classroom displays that supported LGBT rights and even referenced his brave announcement.
It seems, then, that the support that Gray and Landis both received from their students was unexpected but powerful. And the two teachers’ respective experiences prove that, while it may be a scary prospect to put yourself on the line and be vulnerable, the rewards that come from acceptance are unparalleled. Hopefully, too, Gray and Landis have both influenced their students’ – and other people’s – attitudes towards LGBT rights for the better.