Supporting Your Main Character

After telling stories as a television news photographer for twenty years, I never expected that one of my most memorable ones would begin after I left news.1174904_571016916297331_1685141179_n

Sitting in the auditorium of Founders Hall, in my first school assembly in decades, I was a first year teacher watching a student video highlighting our school’s summer activities.

It was there where I noticed the storytelling talent of Alex Heider.

He wasn’t enrolled in any of my Electronic Media and Journalism classes. He was more interested in motors than media. Alex wanted to be a mechanic.

I can’t remember what I said, but I managed to convince him to take one of my courses. Soon he was hooked on telling stories with a video camera. Alex was good at it, too, and he would go on to excel in my classroom, winning numerous student Emmy awards for his work.

And while I was teaching Alex storytelling, he would share his own story with me.

At the age of 11, while living in Johnstown, Pa., Alex ‘s father died of a massive heart attack. Just three days later, on the morning of his father’s funer179914_396515387080819_1094877807_nal, Alex’s grandfather died. Within one week, 11 year-old Alex was a pallbearer at both of their funerals.

Alex always says he didn’t really want to come to Milton Hershey School. But here, he began a new chapter in his journey.

We immediately made a connection in the classroom, and outside it, too. He and my family would spend time together at concerts and dinners. Alex even helped me out by installing a stereo in my car and caring for my pets when I wasn’t at home.

After graduating from MHS, he took a job as an entry-level production assistant at the CBS television affiliate in Harrisburg, Pa. A few years later, he would take his storytelling talents to the NBC station in Charlotte, NC, where he is a successful television news photographer.

Even though he graduated in 2009, Alex and I still stay in touch on a weekly basis.

My story of making the connection between a staff member and a student is not uncommon. It’s what happens here at Milton Hershey School. The children here are more than students, more than just a child sitting at a desk. They become a part of our lives, while they are here, and when they leave MHS.

I don’t believe people meet by accident. We are meant to cross a path for a reason. And if the reason I met Alex was to be a teacher, a friend or even a mentor in his life, it was meant to be.

I know that in my life, Alex Heider is a main character.

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