Local Hero: Michael Virgilio taught "gooder English" to 5,000 students

Retired Thornhill teacher instilled deep values in students for three decades


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Michael Virgilio retired last June after nearly 30 years teaching English at St. Elizabeth Catholic High School in Thornhill.

Image: Michael Virgilio

As students at St. Elizabeth Catholic High School in Thornhill embark on another school year this September, there will be one familiar face missing from the halls for the first time since the institution opened in 1987. 

English teacher Michael Virgilio’s retirement this past June drew former students, including a woman from as far back as a quarter-century, to visit. 

It’s a decision that the 61-year-old father of two children has postponed for seven years. But it was time, he said, to make room for the next generation of teachers. 

“I could not conceive of waking up in the morning and not going to school,” said Virgilio, who has taught about 5,000 students, went on March break trips to Europe with some, ran the school’s downhill ski club and chaperoned track and field meets. “I was having too much fun.” 

As many of his students will remember, he liked to joke that his job was to “learn you gooder English.” On a more serious note, he exposed many classes to his favourite author: the late David Foster Wallace, and his moving “This Is Water” commencement address at Kenyon College about living a compassionate life. Wallace’s philosophy of education rings true for Virgilio. 

“Education is not about filling you up with knowledge, but teaching you how to think, so that perhaps you can learn to empathize,” he said, adding that literature functions as social satire on the ills of humanity. 

So the next time your kid fails to make the grade, consider what is more important: resumé virtues or eulogy virtues. 

And remember: “Never be afraid to show your humanity,” Virgilio said. 

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