The greatest compliment a teacher can receive is the knowledge he or she has had a positive influence on a student.
Lori Remmel received such an expression of gratitude from one of her former students, and she was also personally rewarded for it.
Remmel, a graphics arts and photography teacher at Tamaqua Area High School, attended the commencement ceremony at Drexel University in Philadelphia on June 12 and received the Harold W. Pote Behind Every Graduate Award for Excellence in Secondary Teaching.
Recipients of the award are nominated by Drexel graduating seniors who recall the high school teacher who inspired them to pursue a college education, seek a new perspective on learning or pursue a particular major or career.
Remmel was nominated by Eric Hillegass, a former student of hers at Tamaqua Area, who is a film and video major graduate from the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design in Drexel's, for inspiring him to find artistic and inventive ways to "think outside the box."
As a recipient of the award, Remmel received a $2,000 prize from Drexel, and an additional $2,000 was presented to Tamaqua Area High School.
"I felt extremely honored for Eric to remember me and think of me as being an important instrument in his path," said Remmel. "It made me so happy to be a teacher and reminded me why I wanted to teach."
In 2006, Drexel University initiated the Harold W. Pote "Behind Every Graduate" Award for Excellence in Secondary Teaching. Since then, Drexel has honored 13 teachers and the students who nominated them.
The award is named after longtime Drexel trustee Harold W. Pote, who was deeply committed to recruiting the highest caliber of undergraduate student to the university. Because of the importance of superior teachers in preparing these students, Drexel endowed the "Behind Every Graduate" Award in Pote's name.
Drexel Interim President C.R. "Chuck" Pennoni said, "All too often these high school teachers remain unaware of the tremendous impact that they have had on your life. And rarely, if ever, are they publicly recognized for the role they played in helping students achieve the milestone we are recognizing today."
In nominating Remmel, Hillegass recalled how she spurred his creativity while at Tamaqua, particularly with the formation of a film club and annual student film festival at the school, which inspired him on his college and career path.
"Ms. Lori Remmel is a phenomenal teacher, an unparalleled mentor, and now, a wonderful friend," wrote Hillegass in his nomination. "I had the pleasure of learning from Ms. Remmel in several high school photography and graphic arts classes, but what I learned wasn't limited to what she taught (the technical aspects of taking a photograph, composing a design, or the like); rather, how she taught it.
"A wildly creative person, this teacher inspired her students to find artistic and inventive ways to think further outside the box. She helped us to hone those ideas into artistic expressions we didn't realize we were capable of creating, and even today looking back, I am impressed at the work I crafted in her classes.
"As my high school years neared graduation, I was unsure of which path to take, which college to attend, or which major to study. I often found myself keeping Ms. Remmel at the end of the school day to talk about my future, and her insight led me to follow my passion for art, more specifically, film and video.
"My small high school didn't offer any film electives, but Ms. Remmel helped me to organize a film club, and by the time I graduated, we established a (now annual and very popular) student film festival. This new culture at Tamaqua High School will continue to enrich the lives of the students who pass through its halls, and Ms. Remmel is responsible for it.
"Her passion is visible in everything she does, even outside the classroom. I'm inspired by every piece of artwork I've ever received from her in the mail, an exchange we've continued since I graduated nearly four years ago.
"I can't imagine a more worthy teacher; in essence, Ms. Remmel helped me to pursue my dream, which is now on the verge of realization. Thanks to her relentless encouragement and Drexel's superior co-op program, I now have a job in the television industry post-graduation," concluded Hillegass.
"It's empowering to know you had that kind of effect on a person," said Remmel. "It's important that teachers realize that they can have that kind of impact on students' lives.
"I teach art, but I feel like I teach problem solving, too, The most important thing is for students to learn to think for themselves."
Eric Hillegass has learned that lesson well, and he said thank you to Lori Remmel in a way she will never forget.