Yesterday a great man died. Chuck Lawson was more than just my high school orchestra director for four years. He was, as many of his former students have and will say, a major influence on my life.

High school is a rough time for everybody. We’re all going through a state of transition while having to make our first real decisions in life, take on more responsibilities, and deal with tests, coming of age, and all that nonsense. Parents are obviously important in guiding us through this time, but teachers play an important role as well.

Mr. Lawson was my teacher. I was only a visitor in his orchestra room, bringing over my clarinet a few times a week to join the strings, but I never felt like I didn’t belong. It was in the orchestra room that I was for the first time challenged by music my school, but more importantly, it was in that rehearsal space that I found my love for music.

Before then, music was just something that I did. I did it because I had started playing music before I was old enough to make any real decisions, because it was something that was expected in my family. I went to band camps, which I enjoyed, but those were just temporary respites from an underwhelming experience through middle school.

But in Mr. Lawson’s orchestra room, music came alive. It was in there that my love for music was ignited, it was under his direction that I first saw how music could move people.

Beyond that, Mr. Lawson showed me how to be my true, authentic self. He wasn’t a perfect man, none of us are, but he wore his heart on his sleeve. He wasn’t afraid to be upset or excited. He wasn’t afraid if people knew that he loved Star Trek, that he was a quintessential nerd; no, he embraced it.

He set an example for me on how to be who I truly am, to embrace what I love, and to love living life. To not be afraid of who I am, my emotions, or my faults. To embrace my true self.

I can count on one hand the teachers that had a lasting impact on my life, whose names and face I will never forget. Chuck Lawson is one of them. He helped me learn more than just music; he helped me learn life.

I will always carry the lessons from the Mount Vernon High School orchestra room with me. I’ll never forget what Mr. Lawson did for me and thousands of other students through his decades of service in education. I can’t fathom how many young men and women he helped mold.

Chuck Lawson, I bid you a fond and tearful farewell. You will be missed.