Brain Cancer prompts Priority List

Camila Fernandez/Assistant News Director

Despite having a diagnosis of stage-four brain cancer, University alum and high school English teacher, David Menasche, has traveled across America to find that hundreds of his students have been marked by his teaching legacy.

For fifteen years at high school Coral Reef, Menasche not only taught English, but also important life lessons. He created a list, which he later called the Priority List, that contains 26 different ideas of life, such as love, victory, honor, respect, sex, adventure, wealth, fun, family and friends.

He would ask each of his students to organize these ideas by personal importance, numbering them from most important to least important, according to their definitions of those ideas.

His goal: to get to know his students.

“[You want] to make sure that your students are better people at the end of your class than they were at the beginning,” said Menasche at a FIU Center for Leadership and FIU Honors College lecture on Tuesday. “Problem was, I didn’t know who they were at the beginning of class.”

He needed a quick assessment that would allow him to know his students on a deeper level rather than just by their looks and “eavesdropping on a scrap of conversation,” said Menasche.

He said these words are abstract enough that they allow students to make their own definitions of them. With a word like love, it could be as simple as loving someone’s shoes to loving individuals.

“This would take a lot of time and a lot of thought and a lot of scratching out, because some kids just don’t want to spend time thinking about themselves or things like this,” said Menasche.

By associating the ordering of the words, he truly discovered who his 16-year old students were.

For example, if a student’s list involved the word family next to the word health, he would soon find that that student was going through a difficult situation with his or her family.

Many of his students would put the word “sex” next to “respect”, showing how a student may feel respected with the reputation of a sexual life or that a girl, for example, does not like to be sexually harassed.

“Or similarly, if I’d see one of my boys put something like ‘sex’ next to victory, well… seven points,” said Menasche.

All jokes aside, he said that his Priority List is very useful, especially for high school students as they begin to learn to drive a car and have their first experiments on drugs, alcohol and love.

He promised them that they would not be the same, giving them the same assessment at the end of their school year allowing them to discover more about themselves.

“For a 16-year-old, who perhaps doesn’t have the best grasp of vocabulary and whose world is as slippery and thin as it is, to decide what’s more important between family and friends, between love and fun, it’s a very difficult thing for them to do, but it might have been a necessary one,” said Menasche.

Maria Zuniga, a junior business management major, had Menasche as a junior at Coral Reef in 2011.

She said she did not feel like she was in an English class.

“What impacted me about him was that his class wasn’t just rhetoric and like, English. He would take a life lesson out of everything,” said Zuniga.

“I learned about death, I learned about life. Whenever we had a reading or something, he would just take more of it — he would go in depth.”

After learning that he was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme eight years ago, he found himself losing vision, memory and mobility, hindering his ability to teach.

Menasche decided to contact hundreds of his former students through Facebook to travel across the country and visit them to see how he has made a difference in their lives.


Books of David Menasche’s “The Priority List: A Teacher’s Final Quest to Discover Life’s Greatest Lessons” were sold at the lecture.

Within 48 hours of posting, students from more than fifty cities replied.

After 101 days of travel, many received him into their homes.

“It turns out that they are very compassionate, very friendly, and kind people,” said Menasche.

“When I was a teenager, if I saw one of my teachers at Publix, I would have hidden or ran the other way.”

“But my students not only saw me and said hello, but opened up their homes to me, allowing me to sleep in their living rooms, in the center of their world, in the middle of their lives. I wouldn’t have done that.”

With all these experiences, Menasche’s book “The Priority List: A Teacher’s Final Quest to Discover Life’s Greatest Lessons”has been published.

Actor Steve Carell will be executive director of the new and upcoming film “The Priority List”where Carell will be playing the part of Menasche.

Menasche said that from his understanding, he is the longest lasting survivor of his type of brain cancer.

“I have to realize that however circumscribed my day might be by my disabilities, at the very least, I’m here to think about it, I’m here to enjoy it, and… I’m here!”

About the Author

Camila Fernandez
A FIU School of Journalism and Mass Communications Student - Began working with Student Media in 2013.

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