Friday, January 16, 2009

The Class That Changed My Life: 10th Grade English

I asked Mary Ann Petyak of our Advertising and Promotion Department to tell us about her life-changing class.

The course that changed my life was tenth grade English at G.A.R. Memorial High School in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. My wonderful high school teacher, Mr. Jerry Hromisin, introduced us to some of the great stories and books of American literature—works that opened my eyes and my mind to the world as never before—including Henry David Thoreau's Walden.

Reading this wonderful book, my cynical fifteen-year-old self was astonished that someone could watch the large and small of life with such intensity, curiosity, and joy. I, too, was a kind of watcher, and in those pages I found kinship and assurance that though I was different from my friends, I wasn't alone. Researching my first term paper on Walden, my mind was introduced to the diversity of viewpoints available beyond my teenage world.

I have always said that college taught me how to think. But my college years—and the path to
adulthood—began in that class.

Tell us
about the class that changed your life.


  1. Thanks, Mary Ann.

  2. In my first year at Orara High School (Coffs Harbour, NSW, Australia) I had a young English teacher by the name of Diane Thomas. Aussies don't have junior high—they call grades 7 to 12 "high school"—so I was only 13.

    Miss Thomas set us a story assignment and my imagination was unleashed! I spent all weekend working on my Sci-Fi story during a family vacation and could not understand why my classmates were not equally thrilled with the assignment.

    True to form, my story was longer than probably any assignment she'd ever seen . . . and she also recognized my creative streak. She pointed out that I'm a writer—I had NO idea until that moment—and encouraged me throughout the year, even visiting me at home to meet my dad (who agreed with her that I should be a writer).

    Over the years I made various attempts to "become" a writer but lacked the confidence in myself. Finally, at age 39, I wrote a book, self-published and then set about building a world for writers based upon the book.

    These days I live oceans away from Down Under, but I often wish I could be in touch with Miss Thomas and thank her for making my first experience so positive.

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