Teacher Appreciation Week: Thank You, Mrs. Graham


English teacher Sally Graham

By Gretchen Sterba

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of thank-you columns by NWN seniors in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week.

When I was little, I would spend hours at my PC on Notepad writing stories about mysteries, twisted fairy tales, and even adapted screenplay movies like “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” I became a introverted voracious reader and writer, and when I was in that world, it felt like it was mine. I let the keyboard and pages of books whisk me away into a world where I was present in that moment, and nowhere else.

When I entered my teens, I got involved in dance and my friends more than I ever did before, and lost my passion for writing. Walking into my freshman year Honor’s English class, I thought I would fall in love with words and stories again, but I was wrong. I felt like I had lost my creative flair in school. No longer did I get to be creative. Instead, I had to write analytic essays about the characters of “The Odyssey” and explicate the symbolism in “Romeo and Juliet.”

Junior year I had an unshakable sense of foreboding. I was taking the most challenging classes I had ever taken, along with becoming a part of a Varsity team, and most apprehensively, the ACT. All of those feelings seemed to evaporate when I met my Honors American Literature and Composition teacher, Mrs. Sally Graham.

Our first assignment was to write three vocabulary entries, using three ‘A’ words in our vocabulary books either illustrating anecdotes, poems, lyrics, etc. I took this opportunity and made it my own. Once again, I had felt that this time I let the flow of the keyboard take my mind and concentration purely in the words; nothing else seemed to matter.

With more creative assignments, I started to become more and more confident into the writer I was becoming. By the time teacher conferences rolled around, my mom chose to go meet the teacher that was inspiring me so much. She came home with tears in her eyes saying that Mrs. Graham truly thinks I have a passion for writing. And as soon as I heard her say that, I never doubted it once.

So, from then on, I followed Mrs. Graham’s advice to join the NWN, partaking in an independent study second semester of my junior year. By the end of the year, I had gotten A’s both semesters in her class, my first A’s ever in English, and I had never felt more supported and sure of myself in my life. By June, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, now, in college and forever: write.

When senior year started, Mrs. Graham’s teaching me didn’t stop there. In the summer and early in the school year, I almost lived at Mrs. Graham’s desk while writing my personal statement for the colleges I was applying to. Instead of a superficial topic that admissions people would love, Mrs. Graham advised me to dive deep into myself and find something raw and passionate worth talking about. Following her advice, I got into Illinois State University, Marquette University, and my dream school, Indiana University. Not too much longer, I was assigned the infamous senior research paper, minimum of 10 pages about a poem, and how the other works of that poet impact that particular poem affect it as a whole. For about two weeks straight, Mrs. Graham met with me every day during third period helping me brainstorm ideas, plunge into analysis, and edit edit edit. By the time I turned in the final copy (which also counted as my final), I got an A on the paper and an A in the class, and it was all due to Mrs. Graham.

So, thank you, Mrs. Graham, from the bottom of my heart. Without you, I would probably be an undecided major right now, fretting about what I want to do with my life and not have as much confidence as I do now. You’ve guided me in the best direction possible, and I am so blessed to have you as a teacher and mentor; you have forever changed my life, and myself as a person.