Bright yellow Spikeball nets scattered across the quad are the key to unlocking MC’s campus culture. Students decked out in red on a Friday afternoon, balls flying from one player to the next — a picture of lunchtime is incomplete without the camaraderie and good natured competition in each game.
But nestled in the corner of campus, students uninterested in the competition of Spikeball could slip inside a classroom full of positivity, passion, and physics. Toys littered the teacher’s desk, puzzles, knick knacks and other games, all meant to challenge and comfort even those who struggle to calculate velocity. This moment in time is a representative trifecta of what makes it great to be a Sundevil: caring teachers, community, and compassion. At the center of it all lies physics teacher Mike Bird, and his incredible connection with the entirety of the community.
“I think that’s what makes Mt. Carmel special, it’s the people,” Bird said. “So many people over my 21 years there have been great […] teachers and principals and students, that’s really what the impact has been, I just met so many great people.”
As much as the campus has impacted Bird, it seems as though he has had an irreplaceable effect as well. Whether faculty or student, everyone seems to agree on one thing: MC won’t be the same without the presence of the physics teacher. Tyler Green, a volleyball player, MC alum, and ex-physics student explained what he finds incomparable about Bird’s spirit.
“He was like, Mr. MC you know? I mean, he perfectly resembles what MC is all about […] adds to that perfect campus culture,” Green said.
For Bird, that MC community was an important support system. After campus closed its gates in March, he found himself struggling with distance learning and searching for a reason why. Bird spent four nights in the neurological center at UCSD, undergoing numerous scans in an attempt to understand sudden symptoms of dizziness, lethargy, and nausea. Finally, his doctors diagnosed him with Stage 4 thalamic glioblastoma — inoperable brain cancer. And even in the face of that news, Bird has kept his characteristic positivity and good spirit.
“I think God just said, ‘Okay, Mr. Bird — Mike — you’re not ready for [distance learning] because you need those relationships, so He kinda took me out of it,” Bird said.
For him, that’s the blessing in disguise of the situation — reconnecting with old relationships and having the opportunity to impart wisdom on new ones. With the diagnosis, he says, comes an awareness of time and interpersonal relationships that he did not have before. These lessons of kindness and acceptance that he has always tried to impart on students matter on campus and off.
“It’s weird because you guys aren’t [on campus], but I just tell the kids to love each other, to love your families. And don’t worry about the little things so much. I think today, you know, just listen […] I just want people to get along. That’s what I’ve always wanted, for people to get along with each other,” Bird said.
Those lessons extend beyond the physics textbook, the volleyball court, and the Spikeball net. They are lessons that Bird seems to carry within the very fiber of his being.
Positivity; kindness; grace; faith; all traits that Bird has imparted on his students for the better. People like Spikeball Club President Kristian Chamian (11) have experienced his influence first hand.
“He’s brought joy into our lives connecting [Spikeball Club] together […] He brought happiness wherever he went, and the memories we made with him were wonderful and will never be forgotten. He is the reason we’ve had fun these past years,” Chamian said.
Coworkers, too, have so much appreciation for Bird. Principal Greg Magno appreciates Bird’s “positivity and can-do spirit” and expressed thankfulness for his ability to bring students together on campus. David Whittaker, the president of the Seaside Volleyball Club where Bird coached, called him “as fine of a human as anyone could ask to be involved with.”
AP Physics teacher John Earnest, who has shared a classroom wall, a love of physics, and his faith with Bird for 21 years, expressed how much he admired the other teacher’s tenacity. He also expressed his genuine love for Bird, and how much he enjoyed spending school hours with the other physics teacher just a door away.
“I’ve liked [how] in between class, I can just run over there and say ‘hi’ and just check in on him. We’ve gone through a lot of life together and I’m really going to miss that. I already miss him not being there,” Earnest said.
The two teachers had a particular rapport and camaraderie that came with time and proximity. Together, they have made the MC physics department a memorable feature of campus while showing off school spirit.
“If it was Friday, he was always dressed up in red from head to toe. And we always did something [at Halloween] … we dressed up as hippies one Halloween, and gosh, I think that was about two or three years ago. […] That was a good memory,” Earnest said.
Bird’s love of physics is clear to any and all who have stepped foot inside his classroom. It is only surpassed by his love and care for the people around him. Each test day, students would enter the class to find photos of puppies on the projector — a calming process that hints at Bird’s true care for his students as well as their education.
“With physics, physics is important and it’s wonderful and I love physics, but it’s not always about that. Again, it’s about building relationships and loving people,” Bird said. “I kind of got a better perspective on it since I’ve been diagnosed with this, it’s like, you have to focus on the relationships and how beautiful those are and how important those are. And that’s what I’ve tried to do, and I think that sometimes people lose that.”
This philosophy is evident in his approach to coaching volleyball as well as teaching. Alum Tyler Green fondly remembers a time when the 2019 boy’s varsity team, on their way to a championship, stopped at an ocean outlook and bonded over takeout.
“It was a pretty cool move by him, because he didn’t have to. We could’ve just gone up for the game, you know?” Green said.
“I just want to thank people for their patience, for their kindness, for their love. I look back at my students and then my players, and all of their uniqueness — it’s been cool, to see how they grow and mature. I have not one single regret from Mt. Carmel, which is beautiful. I appreciate every moment there,” said Bird.
That’s the essence of Mike Bird: he did not have to put in the extra effort, but he did. MC, and all the people he has impacted, are much better for it. But Bird doesn’t seem to realize how integral he has been in creating a positive campus environment. He had nothing but gratitude and humility to express towards the people at MC.
And despite the challenges that currently face him, Bird is still spreading positivity and light on campus and off. Whether it’s leading prayers with the pastor at church, sending Bible verses to old college roommates, or attending the science department’s Zoom meetings, he seems to always have a positive message to impart. He’s not afraid, he says, of what’s coming, but instead welcoming this time to bond with his family and friends.
“In a simple way, it’s just be kind to each other. I mean, that’s really the bottom line […] I think people are forgetting that, that we just need to accept each other and be kind to each other,” Bird said.
It’s a simple message, but a powerful one. Above all else, emulate the philosophies that Bird extols, and honor the great Sundevil community that has been a home to so many over the years. And to Mike Bird, those of us at MC just have one more, simple thing to say: thank you for making it great to be a Sundevil.