Careful the things you say, children will listen.
Careful the things you do, children will see.
Children will look to you,
for which way to turn,
to learn what to be.
We looked to her, and she taught us what to be.
Ellen Diem created a world of art and literature, of music and theater—of belonging.
From the outside, she was just a high school teacher but to those who sat in her classroom, she was far more.
This week the world lost one heck of a woman—with rare beauty, quick wit and an uncanny ability to inspire lost or confused students.
I’ve been blessed with a handful of teachers who have inspired, guided and taught me. Ellen Diem stands out among them.
She poured me my first-ever cup of coffee. If you know me at all, you know this is as much a part of my personality as anything else.
Most of my favorite books are ones she put in my hands.
She took me to my first opera, my first musical and my first play—all things I still love and find comfort in.
Through books and art and theater she opened our eyes to a world we didn’t know existed—and kept the coffee coming while we learned the lessons to be found there. Unlike some, she didn’t wait for us to grow into books—she gave us books to help us grow.
Ellen Diem taught me that a good book is better with good coffee. She taught me that theater is about the experience, about being transported.
Some things, like theater, are worth dressing up for.
She taught us to do what you needed to do to get your point across—whether it’s a one-liner or a monologue.
That if you’re going to make a stand, make it worthwhile. And that standing up for the underdog is always worthwhile.
First impressions, like book covers and critics’ reviews, can be misleading.
This week generations of students are mourning the loss—but celebrating the woman they were lucky enough to know.
As an English, Literature and Humanities teacher she armed us with words, but in this time many of us are finding them lacking.
One by one they are telling their favorite stories and lessons.
In a mess meant for her, one student writes: “You have always known that I have never had a problem saying what I feel. But these last few days have proven that that’s not always true. I had the opportunity to hold your hand and talk to you this weekend, but words failed me. We just reminisced and I listened to you as you told us that you were ready to go. With tears in my eyes, I waved goodbye, just like Alan Rickman does to Juliet Stevenson at the end of that movie we love. And you knew what I was doing and you waved back. I’ll never forget what an influence you were in my life and I hope you understood how special you were to me. As you once told me after a death in my family, “Our favorite people aren’t really ours, they’re borrowed.” I know that Harvey is glad to have you back.”
Another said, “Every once in a while someone you least expects comes into your life and believes in you. Encourages you to be the best version of yourself you can be. Goes out of their way to make sure you succeed at your dreams. Ellen was so much more than a teacher. She was a true friend. I can never explain how thankful I am for her friendship, encouragement and all the crazy memories we made along the way!”
Still another said, “You showed me beautiful things and opened my mind to new and exciting things in and outside of class. You made me feel and appreciated.”
They tell stories of the hauling hay in the trunk of her Cadillac and of the first musical she introduced them to.
For most of us, it was Into the Woods.
We’re saying goodbye this week and while we’re feeling the loss—I think she would want us to go back to where it all began to find comfort.
Mother cannot guide you
Now you’re on your own
Only me beside you
Still, you’re not alone
No one is alone
No one is alone