June, July, and August

These days, the thing that is consuming my life beyond measure is graduate school. I’ll be heading out to Chapman University at the end of the summer to begin working on my masters degree in film studies. If only it were as simple as showing up and studying. I’ve got to find an apartment, find a job, and mostly move my entire existence out of Saint Louis, Missouri and into Orange, California. It’s a hectic process, one you’ll probably be hearing a lot about in the next few weeks.

In tearing through my life here and this small house I’ve called home, I have managed to dredge up so many memories, particularly ones from high school. I’ve been thinking back to those teachers that really changed my life and helped me get to where I am now. Honestly, there were several. I was very lucky to go to Webster Groves High School. In 1999, Time Magazine put WGHS on its cover, the centerfold story describing a week at the high school. The article pegged us as the quintessential middle American high school, but if you ask any of the teachers who were there for the journalist’s interviews, the piece isn’t entirely true to the WGHS experience. My time there was served from 2004-2008, but I knew many of the teachers featured in the magazine.

I could not be more grateful to have gone to Webster Groves as a high school student. Was it perfect? God, no! High school in and of itself is a rare form of hell, a gauntlet which all teens must pass. But what makes me glad to be a Statesman (yep, that was our mascot. Top hat and a cane. Fear us.) is the opportunities I had as a student. WGHS is home to some classes that wouldn’t make the cut at most high schools. Forensic science, personal finance, psychology, Latin, creative writing, and film appreciation were all things I took in high school.

Today, it’s the last two on that list that concern me. Creative writing and film appreciation have become driving forces in my life since high school. Both were taught by one man, Mr. Leftridge. He was one of my favorite teachers. Leftridge was young, delightfully loud, with a born announcer’s voice, and blessedly quirky. He once told me there are three reasons people become teachers: June, July, and August. I can honestly say that this nutter of a man changed my life in a major way.

Poetry had been something I loved writing since about sixth grade (another fantastic teacher there, Mr. Waters), but I guess I didn’t see much of a future in being a poet at the time. Leftridge’s creative writing class drastically changed all that. Not only did he get me to value my abilities as a writer and think of myself as a poet, but he forced me to try other styles. In that class we wrote it all, we were even required to submit a weekly blog of 500 words or more. I lay this impulse to blog even now at Leftridge’s door. He also introduced me to the idea of writing a one-act play. My piece “Advising the Afterlife” about a demon and an angel fighting over a soul to fulfill their quotas has been performed twice since 2008; I started that one-act after taking his creative writing class. Me being a creative writing major in college is due in large part to Leftridge’s influence.

But it’s his film appreciation course that really did me in. Mr. Leftridge told everyone straight up that this would not be an easy A just because it involved film. Challenge accepted. And he threw down. There were weekly quizzes about the material covered, minutiae level stuff that you could not get if you didn’t study, and two big movie reviews. But I was in heaven. We started with clips of early films: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer (1927), and D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915). We also covered all the major genres, and worked our way up from the classics to modern day. That class was absolutely phenomenal. I got introduced to some of my favorite movies like Casablanca and Singing In the Rain. It was really the first time I thought about film and its relevance–movies as more than just a blockbuster experience. Yet, it wasn’t until college that I actually believed I could build my life around my two biggest passions, writing and film. Now, I’m going to be working towards a degree in film studies. Sometimes that still blows my mind.

I’ve had so many awe inspiring teachers and professors along the way, and will likely know more as I continue my education. But I give special credit to Mr. Leftridge for fostering my two loves in life and giving me the opportunity to experience them. If you couldn’t tell, I’m an immensely sentimental person. So as I sit here starting a new blog and headed towards a new life, I couldn’t help but think about what got me to this place. Too often we forget those teachers or professors that inspired us along the way. I sent Mr. Leftridge an email today thanking him for all that he has done. There were so many educators from WGHS in particular who helped me become me, that I don’t think it will be my last email or letter of thanks.