I suppose you could say that I was especially fortunate when it came to my childhood education. I attended the Scotia-Glenville School District from elementary through high school and with the exception of a traumatic experience with a math teacher in middle school, all of my teachers were phenomenal, however, there is one who stood out above the rest.

For all of my life, I've had an insatiable thirst for reading and once I learned how to write and discovered that I had a gift for putting thought to paper, there was no turning back. My passion for writing was fueled by my mom who encouraged me to submit my work to various publications and academic literary contests. Sometimes I was recognized and other times I wasn't, but when I wasn't published or recognized, I never felt discouragement. Instead, a fire was burned inside of me to do even better on my next piece.

When I was in elementary school, one of my English teachers felt that I wasn’t being challenged enough and introduced me to the author Cynthia Voigt. I have never been as immersed in a series of books as I was in the Tillerman Cycle. I read and re-read each of the seven novels in the series and was gripped with so many emotions. Emotions that I’d never felt before and emotions that frantically made me want to take pen to paper and let all of the feelings inside of me spill out. It was that year that I began to keep a journal, something that I continued to do until just a few years ago when the demands of a full-time job and motherhood sucked all of my free time dry.

I decided near the end of my sophomore year of high school that I would double up on my junior and senior classes while also attending Schenectady Community College in the evening and by doing that, I would be able to graduate high school a year early and step into an adulthood with a year of college already under my belt.

While all of my teachers recognized my aptitude for reading and writing, none of them had quite the impact on my life as my high school English teacher, Mrs. Cassady. Mrs. Cassady made me feel smart and talented and whenever I’d write a paper for her class, the words inside my head had a magical way of translating onto paper. Mrs. Cassady’s respect and belief in me, in my work, and in my creative process gave me such confidence. She had high standards and expected her students to meet them and boy, did I want to. I admired Mrs. Cassady and didn’t want to let her down and so I poured every ounce of my being into the assignments for her class. I soaked in every single thing that she taught and vowed that I would do whatever it took to make her proud not just in her classroom, but also in life.

One day, about ten years after I graduated from high school, I got a call from my mom telling me that a thick package had arrived at her house and that it was from Mrs. Cassady. I’d stayed in touch with her through the years, exchanging emails and Christmas cards and such, but I couldn’t figure out what it was she would have sent to me.

As I tore into the package the world around me suddenly slowed down. I could hear my mom asking what was in it and although she was standing next to me, the sound of her voice seemed so far away. As I began to read the enclosed letter, tears spill down my cheeks. Mrs. Cassady wrote that she was so proud of me and that she knew, even when I was just a kid, that one-day expression through spoken word and writing would be integral to my livelihood and that I would find a way to use both to make a difference in the world around me. I genuinely admired Mrs. Cassady and always hoped that I would be one of the students she thought back on with pride and there it was in writing, in the very letter that I was holding in my hands. Mrs. Cassday was proud of me and she was encouraging me to continue to write because she knew that it was and always would be one of the greatest passions of my life.

In addition to the letter were several papers that I’d written as a student in Mrs. Cassady’s English class. She’d held onto her favorite pieces but felt the time had come to return them to me so that I could look back on them and see just how much I’d grown as a writer and also to remind me that writing is a constant process of growing and learning.

This June marks 20 years since I last sat in Mrs. Cassady’s classroom, but my feelings for her haven’t changed. As a matter of fact, they’ve grown stronger. As an adult who uses spoken word and writing every single day in my career as a radio personality and a digital content contributor, I have used every single thing she taught me to expand on my passion and to further my career. Had Mrs. Cassady not pushed me, had she not demanded I put my all into my assignments, had she not tucked me under her wing, I don’t know that I would be where I am today.

Thank you, Mrs. Cassady. Thank you for being genuine. Thank you for being passionate. Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for believing in me and believing that I could and would change the world with my gift. Thank you for being you. Thank you for making a difference in my life.