As we recognize Teacher Appreciation Day in the U.S., I want to take a moment to pay tribute to my grade school teacher, Ms. M., who’s words of encouragement still stick with me 40 years later.
I attended third through fifth grades at Oakton Elementary school in northern Virginia. Our classroom was referred to as "The Learning Center." It included 120 students from across several grade-levels, taught by 4 teachers in a highly fluid and energizing environment.
In the fall of my 5th grade year, I participated in the school play competition. I wrote, directed and performed in my first play, The Snoggletoss Family. (Catchy title, huh? Part of a longer story.) The experience was exhilarating. My friends were the cast. My mother came to see all 5 performances. And, we won the competition!
Several months later I learned we were moving away before my sixth-grade year. My father was a career Navy officer and he was going to be stationed in Hawaii. We moved every three years and I loved it because my parents made it a family adventure (and Hawaii is, well Hawaii).
We didn’t have yearbooks to sign, so on my last day I asked my teachers to sign the manila envelope that contained my school papers. Ms. M, who taught and worked with me across multiple school subjects, wrote four simple words, "to a great playwright."
Ms. M. understood and recognized a passion in me. She understood it probably more profoundly than I think I did at the time. While I dabbled in creative theater, writing and directing over the years, I pursued a career path that included military service (to include serving as a faculty member), a political appointment, and many years of working in the IT and technology business sector. I've loved every moment, challenge, opportunity and experience along the way.
Just over 40 years later, Ms. M's four words remained etched in my mind. Two years ago, I took 6 months off from my 'day job' and I wrote a screenplay. I had some amazing mentors and support in my work, and it was simply an awesome experience. Those four words from Ms. M. inspired me to live a fuller life. She helped me to see I could embrace all the passions I have.
Thank you Ms. M. Thank you to all the teachers who impact and inspire their students in the moment, and for decades to come.