Pat Mouton gave me a D on the first assignment I ever turned in to her.

It was an essay on some summer reading assignment going into junior year of high school; I don’t remember now what the book was. I do remember I had never gotten a D in my life and I was devastated. My mother was incensed—not at me, but because surely the paper couldn’t have been that bad, and the grade was just cruel.

I don’t know if what I’d written merited a D, but I do know it wasn’t my best work. I know that over the two years I had Mrs. Mouton for English in high school, my writing improved, and that D showed me she meant business. (I never got another D, by the way.)

Pat Mouton was one of many exceptional teachers I had during my educational career. My English teachers made me a better writer. The first journalistic article I ever wrote was a story on Onondaga County’s first death penalty case for Tony Anello. Tim Murphy made me think this was something I might actually be good at (and he indulged my penchant for doodling song lyrics on my vocabulary quizzes). Linda Wiehl and Janet Brooks inspired my love for social studies, and Dick Fitzgerald’s passion was infectious enough to spur me to major in history in college. Jill Harsin, Camilla Townsend and Robert Nemes helped me hone my research skills and my writing (though they may also have made me more long-winded as a result). When I needed to focus on one area, Frank Byrne, Dave King, Mary McCune and Doug Deal helped me decide I was most interested in 20th century America. When I wanted to teach, Tara Ross, Rick McLain and Tim Willig gave me the guidance I needed to be a confident professor.

I’m still always learning, and I’m still grateful to the people who invested their time and talents in me. It’s a cliché, but none of us would be where we are today without our teachers.

I got to work with Pat Mouton again as an adult while I was at the paper and she was serving on the Liverpool school board. She passed away several years ago. Not long after, I was talking to a mutual acquaintance, former Liverpool village Mayor Marlene Ward who told me she and Mrs. Mouton were talking about me. Marlene told me Mrs. Mouton had told her she was so proud of the work I was doing and she was so pleased to see me at the helm of the paper.

I couldn’t ask for higher praise.