School of Hard Rocks

From his wheelchair Doug Burris runs the show, loud and proud, at Miami Beach High

He doesn't dwell on his situation though. He's simply too spirited for that. It's an attribute that hasn't been lost on those who've worked with him or studied under him. "He's just extraordinary as a human being and a teacher," current Beach High principal William Renuart says. "The effect he has on the kids that he works with, the effect on the whole school.... He teaches life. He teaches how to be a mensch."

"Doug is my mentor," says 1981 grad Michael McNamee, now a movie sound engineer who also spends as much as twenty hours per week helping Burris with the Rock Ensemble. "Because of that there is this need in me to repay him for what I found to be my career. Anybody who has been in Rock Ensemble would probably feel the same way. I just felt like there was this area of my life where I had to give something back. He didn't ask for it, I just did it. It's like a family feeling. When you're in Rock Ensemble, you wish it could last the rest of your life, and you know it can't. For me, I'm trying to make that happen."

Of course McNamee realizes the family can't stay together forever. Sooner or later Burris will be gone. At that point the future of the Miami Beach Rock Ensemble will be uncertain. "If it ends there, maybe that's where it ends," he reflects. "Then maybe someone else comes in and tries something else. It's almost like one of those pairs of shoes you can't fill."

But Burris has no plans to vacate those shoes just yet. "I'd like to keep doing it for as long as I'm happy with it," he says. "There are three things that keep me going: number one, the music; number two, the kids and people I deal with; and number three, it's the perfect situation for a person in my condition, to be able to do something that's productive and fun and just seems to fit into the natural scheme of things." Rock and roll.

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