Funny how a single moment in your life can have such a significant impact on everything that follows. I spent my younger years through middle school and even high school journaling like a fiend. I couldn’t get enough, I had at least five notebooks that I wrote in every single day about all the things going on in my life. Everything seemingly serious at the time; down to who came to my birthday party that year, who brought the best gift and what people thought of the cake. Everything from things that hurt like fights with my parents or my best friend to crushes and lessons learned in church, all was documented in those journals. At the time, I really didn’t give much thought to why or what the writing would mean to me throughout my life. Nor did I think that all those hours I’d spent writing and telling stories were of any importance or even any good. They were just pages and pages of my thoughts and observances of the world around me.
At 13, it became apparent that sports were my muse. They came easy and that kept me going. Throughout high school, my label was varsity sports jock but it was still important to me to achieve high grades in all of my courses. I liked quite a few of my classes and plenty of subjects were interesting but none of them ever seemed like a potential career choice or focus in college to me. With no clear idea of what to choose as my major in college, I knew I’d go but had no idea how to pinpoint what I was good at or what mattered to me because it all came easy and didn’t challenge me.
My second semester of senior year, AP English with Mrs. Graff changed everything. The word around school was that she was tough, but I was prepared for the challenge. Our very first assignment was an essay on what our family means to us and what role we believe culture plays in our lives. I was thrilled at the assignment and couldn’t wait to start, knowing I’d write about my big beautiful Italian family and our love for get-togethers, homemade food and cooking, talking about where we came from, and our faith.
About a week after the assignment was due, Mrs. Graff asked me to come to her office during study hours that afternoon. Nervous at first, I thought I was in trouble for turning my paper in late. Slowly, her office door closed behind me and it became clear that this meeting was about something else entirely. She told me my essay was exceptional and I should consider using it as my college applications essay. The next words out of her mouth will stay with me forever. “Rebekah, you are a great writer and can become an exceptional one if you stick with it and work hard to develop your voice.”
Those words filled me with joy and hope for the future and instilled in me that I had value, a voice and that a passion of mine could hold significance in my life. From that day on writing has been the thread in my life that has taken me to places I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. She taught me that talent, a little luck and a lot of hard work can transform a passion into something that can make your dreams come true.
I owe it to Mrs. Graff, the exceptional public high school English Teacher who saw me. She understood that without direction we all get a little lost and encouragement can give us wings to fly. She gave me something to cling to that would take me far. The first chapter of my story was written that day.
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