HOW HAS A THEATRE TEACHER made a difference in your life? That’s the question we posed to Thespians. You told us that your teachers inspire you. They welcome and encourage you. They provide you with opportunities that have transformed not only your high school journey but also your plans after graduation.

Thank you to everyone who shared your experiences.

Cassandra Shott-Hammond has not only made a difference in my life but also for all the students in my troupe. She puts in more hours than any other teacher at my school. We have rehearsals twice a week, but she always is working on the set or the costumes outside of those hours. She cares about all her students endlessly. She makes sure that we all do our best even if we are tired. Cassie is one of the strongest women I know and is one of the people I look up to most. She has been through so much and still managed to keep going and inspires her students to do the same. She has taught me and other students how to care about and respect others even if our opinions differ. She has grown my love for theatre in ways that I cannot explain. Without her, I would not have the skills or the confidence to pursue a job in the entertainment industry. Cassie is the best teacher I have ever had, and I would like for others to appreciate her as much as her students and I do.

— Brianna Medina, Nuview Bridge Early College High School’s Troupe 8117, Nuevo, Calif.

My theatre teacher [Barbara Hilt] has had a major impact on my life. It’s fair to say without her I wouldn’t be here today. When I auditioned for my first play, my state of mind was messed up, and I had a hard time believing I had any true value. Mrs. Hilt saw my potential. She gave me a chance when I didn’t think I deserved it. She showed me there’s more to life than what is given to me. She gave me a reason to keep moving forward. If I didn’t stop by to audition for Hamlet, I strongly believe I wouldn’t be here today. I will forever remember her giving me a purpose and showing me how much more there is to life and how theatre can be my break from reality. Without this, I wouldn’t have accomplished anything. I went from feeling like I had no real worth to understanding my value and what I can offer this world. Now we will be performing Hamlet at [the International Thespian Festival] and I can’t stress enough how big this is to all of us. This just shows that she was right: Tough times will pass; greater things are coming.

— Jessica Angulo, Garden City High School’s Troupe 2846, Garden City, Kan.


Our troupe is very small. From broken wireless mics to no monitors, we don’t have much to work with when performing shows. However, Ms. [Christina] Goodin shows that anything is possible even if it seems impossible. We have created countless shows, using big set pieces to only props. She has shown that you can achieve anything as long as you have a creative mind. Not only has she been a strong supporter for us, but she also gives us the love and support not a lot of us get. As a small troupe, we all stick together as family, working day in and day out, and she has been there to guide us every step of the way. She’s the hug we secretly need; she’s the friend we all crave to care for us and tell us that we are amazing and doing our best, even when times are tough. Whether it’s a simple nod or a small smile, it’s something most of us need when we don’t receive it outside of school. She is our troupe mother and always will be there to hold our hands and tell us, “Things will be okay because we have each other.”

— Julexis Gonzalez, Pine Ridge High School’s Troupe 5532, Deltona, Fla.

Roger Graziani, or as most of his students know him Graz, has dramatically impacted my life. When I joined theatre, I was really unsure of what I was doing. He showed me the way and paved a road for me. In my sophomore year, I went through a very rough experience. I am a Muslim female who wears a hijab (headscarf) every single day. One day, I was threatened and was very uncomfortable in my own skin, and I couldn’t even change in the girls’ locker room. I didn’t know where to turn, and Graz saw me crying. He stopped me, calmed me down, took me to the office, helped me file an incident report, and called my parents. He has been there for me through thick and thin, through good and bad, and through every single experience. He has grown to become another parent, and I truly could not have survived high school without him. After his 20 years of service to our school, he has chosen to retire, and I wish him the best during his retirement.

— Tala Qasqas, Charter Oak High School’s Troupe 2409, Covina, Calif.

[Lauren Kuykendall] has always been there. She is so loving and caring, and she will do anything for her kids. She is very welcoming to newbies, and she has a good heart. She makes sure that you know that you are important. She let me know on numerous occasions that I can do anything I want and that I’m important. She loves all her actors, and she is just a queen!

— A’shanthe Gathers, Villa Rica High School’s Troupe 4701, Villa Rica, Ga.


Mr. [Jonathan] Gruich quite literally saved my life. He made high school so much better for me and reminded me why I love theatre. He has given me so many life-changing opportunities that I never would have thought I’d get that have forever impacted my life. I’m forever grateful. He constantly gives honest yet kind notes and feedback, puts his heart into every production, and always goes the extra mile. He inspires me every day to work hard and not second-guess myself. He’s why I am who I am today and has changed my life (and the lives of many others) forever.

— Megan Ayers, Manassas Park High School’s Troupe 7169, Manassas Park, Va.

Ms. [Kaitlyn] Etter has always been an inspiration to everyone in our theatre department. She is an amazing person who is hardworking, kind, and a supportive teacher above all. She had the amazing opportunity to be in Sister Act (second national touring company). … Having that professional experience, Ms. Etter has been able to integrate skills/methodology to our growing theatre program. She holds a special place in my heart as she is the first theatre teacher at Ridgefield High School, and she is such a great role model for aspiring Thespians. Though I only met her two years ago, the impact she has had on me, her students, and our program is unbelievable, and she is appreciated.

— Sebastian Rojas-Rincon, Ridgefield High School’s Troupe 8635, Ridgefield, Wash.

Wow! Where do I begin? Graz has been there for me since the first day I walked into our drama room. Not only is this man a teacher, but he is my father away from home. He is a great teacher for the arts, and I’m really going to miss him next year, as he is retiring this year. He has been at our school for 20 years. This man has done so much for me and our department. If there was an award for best drama teacher in the world, it would definitely go to Roger Graziani!

— Vincent Briseno, Charter Oak High School’s Troupe 2409, Covina, Calif.


These two educators have had a major impact in my life. They have inspired me and directed me toward my bright future in theatre education. Mr. [Joel] King and Mr. [Jon Tyler] Owens have always supported me in whatever I wanted to do with no hesitation. During my freshman year, I was recovering from a major leg reconstruction and was looking for an afterschool activity to do since I could no longer play softball. By the grace of God, I found our school theatre and was heartily welcomed into our department by them. Regardless of my injury and the restrictions I had wearing a boot, they were super patient and supportive of me. Thanks to them, I have been a proud member of our Thespian troupe and have been gifted a whole new family. Additionally, they have guided me to become the performer and leader I am today. Without Mr. Owens and Mr. King, I would have never gone to LeadCon [Leadership Conference] or became an STO! Their passion, dedication, and drive for the performing arts is bigger than life itself, and our theatre is SO lucky to have them around!

— Genevieve Cortez, North Springs High School’s Troupe 4389, Sandy Springs, Ga.

[Lauren Kuykendall] is incredibly smart, talented, and extremely kind. She impacts my life greatly. She brightens my day and has made my life better. She’s the reason I’m a Thespian! She introduced me to theatre. In return, I fell in love with the magic, and I can’t thank her enough.

— Terri Teal, Villa Rica High School’s Troupe 4701, Villa Rica, Ga.

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