Dear Teacher, Director, Coach: Thank You For Changing Lives

I was going to send the following words in an e-mail to my daughter’s theater director, speech coach and English teacher after the school year as way of saying “thank you” to Rebecca Meyer-Larson, an unstoppable dynamo of a woman at Moorhead High School. But after writing them, and reading them, I figured the world should know the impact this educator (and many educators) has on our young people. That is to say, large.

I’ve never written to a teacher of Emma’s before, sadly, even though she’s had some great ones over the years. But “Mey-Lar” is something else again and the impact she is having on not only Emma, but dozens of students every year should not go unnoticed. She is literally one of the best high school theater directors and speech coaches IN THE COUNTRY. World class. And she’s right here in Moorhead. It’s pretty awesome.

The letter is pretty sappy and maybe it’s all inside baseball to those not involved in Moorhead theater and speech. But I don’t care. Educators are seemingly under assault now more than ever in this country and so somebody has to say something in support of them, particularly the great ones. Maybe this will spur others to write e-mails to their kids’ favorite teachers/coaches/mentors.

I hope Rebecca’s not embarrassed. And I hope Emma doesn’t kill me for writing this and sharing it publicly. If they find my body in the Red River, you’ll know who did it. She’s driving a white Pontiac Vibe and probably sipping on a Starbucks peach-green tea lemonade.

Dear Rebecca,

Just wanted to drop you a quick note to thank you for all you have done for Emma (and all the kids) these last couple of years when she’s had the honor of being part of your programs. I was going to write you immediately after the state speech tournament in Apple Valley to congratulate and thank you because I was so impressed by the way your team performed and conducted itself, but waited until now so I could encapsulate the entire school year.

In a word: Wow. While others like Brian Cole in middle school orchestra and Kelly Gerchak in middle school theater (and others) have been very positive influences on Emma as teachers and mentors, I wanted to let you know the remarkable positive impact you’ve had on our daughter’s life. Your passion for theater and speech — and life, basically — has become Emma’s passion. Michelle and I could not be happier or more proud.

You run a world-class theater and speech program, right here in little ol’ Moorhead. You probably don’t hear that enough, and your state champion speech team probably doesn’t get the publicity it deserves, but you need to know your programs don’t take a backseat to anybody in any activity when it comes to winning and preparing kids for future success.

I’ve shared the story before, but there was a stretch when Michelle and I were wondering what activities Emma was going to be interested in. We let her dabble in just about everything, from sports to dance to orchestra, but she didn’t go crazy for anything until she became involved with Gerchak’s theater program at Horizon. Then we saw that spark turn into a flame and she just couldn’t get enough of theater.

Moving into your theater program at the high school only made her passion grow. There was disappointment her freshman year when she didn’t make the cast of “Tarzan,” but she joined the tech crew and put in ungodly long hours at the school (with lots of other kids) to help with the production. It was during that stretch when I knew Emma was part of something special. While dropping her off at school on a Saturday morning after a late Friday night at the theater, I told Emma she looked exhausted and wondered if she was OK.

Rebecca Meyer-Larson.

“I am totally exhausted,” she said. “But I love it, Dad.” And out the pickup door she went for another long day at the high school.

That was a very proud moment for me, to know that my daughter was involved with something she enjoyed so much that she was looking forward to getting back to it even though she was dead-tired. Much of the credit goes to you, for insisting on excellence from the performers and crew and showing so much love for your work that it rubs off on teen-aged kids. What a great lesson you teach young people: That if you’re going to do something, do it with 100 percent commitment and push yourself beyond your normal limits to be great. Trust me, that is something Emma and all of the theater kids will carry with them long beyond high school.

You also taught Emma to not give up. She was disappointed she didn’t make the cast as a freshman, but you encouraged her to stick with it and go out for speech because it would help her in theater. And so another passion was exposed. Emma is just as crazy about speech now as theater.

Which brings us to this year. I can’t imagine a group of students in any high school anywhere had a more productive, learning-filled, non-stop energetic year than your theater/speech crew. The kids were on the go from the first day of school until just recently when the speech banquet ended. I never knew young people could stay so busy and learn so much — yet be so upbeat and supportive of one another the entire way — until I saw your kids up close this year. From “Little Shop of Horrors” to the awesome trip to New York City to see Broadway shows and learn about Alexander Hamilton (still can’t believe we saw “Hamilton”) to winning another speech state title, it was all unbelievable. To have Emma be a part of it changed her life, made her a better person and will positively affect her going forward in countless ways. Honestly, she spent more hours with you and her teammates and coaches than she did with us this school year. And we are fine with that. She was in good hands. Thank you.

The state speech tournament was such an incredible experience for me. Because Emma wouldn’t let Michelle and I attend any of her regular-season tournaments, state at Apple Valley was my first time getting to watch a competition. It was an eye-opener in many ways.

First, because Emma and so many other kids who didn’t make state wanted to travel four hours to a Twin Cities suburb, it told me that they felt a part of something bigger than themselves. They wanted to support their teammates even though they weren’t going to compete. Does any other speech team have that many kids travel to state? It didn’t look like it.

Next, the talent on display at state was jaw-dropping. Not just the Moorhead competitors, either. I sat in many classrooms and watched many young people perform their speeches and was blown away by their intelligence, creativity and talent. I speak on the radio for a living every day and cannot imagine myself doing what those 17- and 18-year-old kids were doing. Just an eye-opener. As I tweeted out at the time, if a person thinks young people today don’t have their stuff together or that we should fear for our future … no. Just go watch state speech and you will be very comforted about the future.

And a note, of course, about your Spuds. Getting to see these kids from the periphery during theater, or in New York City, or at state speech was amazing. They are so well-behaved, well-prepared, confident, professional, well-coached, well-spoken, organized, driven, funny, engaging, creative, competitive … and a dozen other adjectives. I would observe all the kids, Emma included, and think that every one of them was going to be successful in life beyond high school because of the skills and traits they learned in your program.

Michelle and I are both former high school “athletes” (huge quotation marks) and still love sports, but we’re both so happy Emma became involved in theater and speech because she is so well-rounded and well-prepared for LIFE in ways that even playing on a sports team couldn’t accomplish. You have played a huge role in that for Emma and every other student who has come through your program.

One last note, and perhaps it has to do with my upbringing and living in Moorhead all these years more than anything else. One thing I love about your speech team is that even though it is clearly the dominant program in Class AA in the state, the kids have a chip on their shoulder because they are from MOORHEAD. We are the outstate school that has to travel to the Twin Cities for every tourney, we don’t have the big fancy high school that many suburban schools have, and there’s just a little edge to the Spuds that drives them even more. I see that in your personality and I think it reflects in your team and I think it is perfect for Moorhead.

In closing, I just want to say again how much appreciated you are by all the speech parents and the kids. I know that sometimes it feels like theater and speech don’t get the love you think they deserve, and I can’t promise that will ever change, but the work you do is so important and you are having a direct and lasting impact on many lives. Thankfully, that includes Emma. Michelle and I, again, want to let you know how important that is to us.

Have a wonderful summer,

Mike and Michelle McFeely