Friday, June 8, 2012

In honor of Ray Bradbury: Write your favorite teacher a letter.

I was away camping for the last 4 days so I had missed the news and just heard about the passing of one of my heroes, Ray Bradbury.  

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But the way I heard about Mr. Bradbury's death was via a wonderful, unexpected email letter which I thought I would share:

Mr. Ferrari,

You taught my English class in the 6th grade at St. Robert Bellarmine Elementary School in Burbank, CA some 15 years ago. That year I was introduced to three inspiring figures that I still have very much respect for today. 
The first, strangely, is Conan O'brien. The first time I saw Conan host Late Night on NBC I thought he was the funniest person on the planet, and I still think so today. What I really got a kick out of was the fact that he looked so much like my American Literature teacher at the time. I must admit I only started watching because of his physical resemblance to you. After that, I always associated you with that comedic hero of mine (who by the way, had graduated Harvard and carries much integrity as a public figure, so I promise, this is a compliment to you).
The second figure is Ray Bradbury. That year you had us read "Fahrenheit 451". I approached it with the same laziness and indifference as I did with all other assigned reading. All I wanted to do was read R.L. Stine novels and watch television at home. I didn't care for another dated novel I would be made to dissect.During the reading assignment, you mentioned in class that Ray Bradbury would be speaking at the Festival of Books at UCLA and we could have the opportunity of hearing him speak if we wanted. Needless to say, the idea didn't sound extremely exciting to a group of eleven year olds. That is, until I continued reading.
His novel sparked much interest inside of me, and I was drawn to his metaphor for the love of books and the fear of modern technology as an authority. Curiosity arose. The next thing I know, my Dad is picking me up on a Friday from my mom's house to spend the weekend with him, and I'm asking him if we can go to a festival of books on a Saturday to meet my new favorite author. You can imagine his surprise, and his willingness to acquiesce immediately!
He took me the next day to hear Bradbury lecture inside of Royce Hall, which was truly entertaining, and then we stood in a very long line waiting to get his autograph.
Thus began a long obsession with Bradbury's work, and with it a collection of novels that I just had to get autographed, leading into numerous more lectures and meet and greets in the years to come. His book "Zen in the Art of Writing" is what made me want to become a writer. Although this dream never fully matured, it developed my passion for the creative arts and the beauty of expressing one's self.
This brings us to our third figure. On this day of Bradbury's passing I am inspired to do something I wanted to do long ago, which is to thank you. You reached somebody with enough virtue to last a lifetime. Your love of literature and your enthusiasm to teach moved me in a way that I can never forget, and for that I will always be grateful. 
I wonder how things would be different now if you didn't make the additional effort then to develop us to become more than just students. Not just readers but thinkers, lovers of books. Essentially, what the protagonist, Guy Montag, becomes in "Fahrenheit 451." To allude to a Bradbury term, a "Butterfly effect" would undoubtedly prove that I would be less content today as a result.
So thank you, Mr. Ferrari, for teaching me. I promise you that your words professed in that classroom stuck with me for much longer than the end of that semester. You've inspired me for a lifetime.
P.S. I don't have any kids, yet. But when I do, you can bet that I will be reading "Born to Fly" with them, and sharing some of the greatest experiences I can ever hope to have.

Andres Ocon

Isn't that a letter every teacher would love to get? I think Mr. Bradbury would have liked it, too.   

As the book people show in Fahrenheit 451, good stories and storytellers never really die.

Ray Bradbury, age 3.

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