Teachers may have favorite students, but students can have favorite teachers. In high school, mine was Yvonne Schwartz, an English teacher whose classes I had several times during my high school years.

When I had a chance to choose a few classes in high school, one of them was always reserved for whatever Yvonne was teaching.

I liked Yvonne’s classes because her teaching style suited my learning style. Plus, we grew close and she let me call her “Yvonne.” That was a big deal for a 17-year-old in high school.

Our last day of school was bittersweet. She was happy for me, but as she signed my yearbook, she was crying. She looked at me and said, “This is the last good class.”

There is a long story behind that comment, one that includes an earthquake, school days cut in half, and a lot of other dramas, but it turns out she was right. The school, Fairfax High in Los Angeles, was never the same after the class of ’73.

As Yvonne closed the yearbook and handed it back to me, she said, “You should be a writer.”

That would be nice, I thought, but I did not have a clue as to how to become a writer. And besides, my buddies were waiting for me…

Once my schooling was finished, I entered the business world and started writing all types of things, none of which had any importance – it was just business stuff. Then, in 1996, I wrote and sent a fax to a famous person and my life was changed forever. (I’m giving you the short story.)

At the time, I owned an import business and was doing well. Over the course of a week following that fax, however, I decided to become a writer.

I put all of my energy into trying to find writing work but I couldn’t get it because I had no writing experience. So, I decided to create my own work. I wrote and self-published a bad book but didn’t care too much because all I wanted to do was to be able to say that I had written a book.

Unfortunately, selling something back then was harder than selling something today and my income suffered.  In 1998, my income was only about $17,000. I was 43 and had a wife, two kids, a mortgage and a car payment. To help make ends meet, I took a job on the graveyard shift at Disneyland. I wrote during the day, slept from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., worked at Disneyland until 7:30 a.m, then started the whole thing all over again.

At the same time, I entered a contest to become a new columnist for the Daily Pilot. I won, along with a pair of writers who would share the column time and space. Those two were around for awhile, then they weren’t, and I ended up writing weekly columns for the Pilot for 15 years.

A month or so after I landed the column, I got my first freelance writing job at OC Metro magazine. I would continue to write for several of the magazines at Churm Publishing for many years.

In November, 1998, I caught a break and landed a great job as a copywriter for an ad agency and was able to quit my grueling job and schedule at Disneyland. I didn’t know beans about copywriting but I learned quickly and got over the learning curve in no time. I stayed at the agency for nine years, leaving as the vice-president, marketing.

Not long after I started at the agency, I was asked by the famous person to become the editor of a national magazine and to contribute articles. That was a great gig and I was very successful at it, so much so that one of my early efforts became the first and only sold out issue in the magazine’s history. On the wall of my office is a fax from the publisher to a print coordinator that reads, “We can not [sic] keep up with the demand for this issue – and we are currently running out of them.”

That fax is dated “8-2-00.” I had arrived. There are many more writing successes to report, including a letter that I wrote that generated $15 million in revenue over the three years it was used by the ad agency.

Through all of this – while I was scrubbing trams at Disneyland at night and interviewing people for articles during the day while trying to stifle yawns – through the good writing times and bad, I never doubted that I would be successful.

I never doubted it because my teacher, Yvonne, told me it is what I should do. Those five words she said to me on that last day of high school lay dormant for 25 years but when my time came, they were as loud in my head as any cannon shot. And I heard them every day.

Teachers, you may never know the depth of the influence you have on your students. And those whom you inspire may never reach out to you to say, “thank you.” But I am saying it to you today – and especially to Yvonne.

Thank you, teachers.

Steve Smith