Last month I said the college you attend doesn’t matter – and I’ll stick to that – but the teachers who staff schools can make all the difference in the world.

I work with amazing educators at DACC. Every day I hear stories of my colleagues going the extra mile to support the confidence, goals, and ambitions of their students. Students’ success is our success and I work with folks who excel in making diamonds from coal. We’ll see the evidence of that at commencement next week.

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I’d like to thank some of the people who helped me find my place in this world.

When I was 7 years old, I rode the wrong bus home after school. I was scared and alone at the end of a quarter mile drive on a narrow rural road near the interstate when these two people I had seen at school, but never met, stopped to help me.

Mrs. Irma Crist was a kindergarten teacher and Mr. Bill Crist taught junior high math. They took me to their home and kept me safe until my Grandpa could come get me. Years later, Mr. Crist embarrassed me with that story in class, but he always ended with how proud he was that I kept my head.

Mr. Crist is gone, but I still exchange Christmas cards with Mrs. Crist. Those two made a lasting impression about what it means to care for strangers.

I play trumpet because of Mrs. Lucile Mellinger — she alone can take the credit (or blame). We didn’t have money to rent or buy an instrument when band started, so I didn’t participate.

The last day of fifth grade, Mrs. Mellinger approached my Mom with a request that I learn to play the French horn. She arranged for me to play the school’s French horn for free, and then she talked the high school band teacher into giving me free lessons during the summer so I’d be caught up in the fall.

I took the lessons, switched to trumpet (because French horn is really hard) and stuck with it through high school. She’s gone now, but Mrs. Mellinger taught me to look for hidden talents and nurture them; everyone deserves a chance.

Ms. Nancy Thomas is retiring at the end of this year from a long and storied career at North Vermillion High School. She was an English teacher, theater director and my biggest cheerleader outside of family.

When others saw poverty and let that define my potential in their eyes, Nancy Thomas saw my potential and knew I could — and would — overcome the circumstances of poverty. She had my back when others doubted my brain. Ms. Thomas taught me to look at the heart and mind of a person to determine their worth, rather than the things they own.

These are my stories, and I’m not alone. Good teachers abound in our schools; they mold students’ lives from day one through to a PhD.

I wish we gave teachers the recognition and compensation they deserve. The best I can do in this space is to say, “Thank you! You improved the world – and my life – by being in it.”

Lara L. Conklin is director of marketing and college relations for Danville Area Community College. Contact her at (217) 443-8798.