Gratitude for a Great Teacher
Erin Labbé


Many of us have had great teachers – those who have inspired and encouraged us and changed our lives forever. In fact, most of us can likely think of a teacher who we would like to thank or publicly acknowledge for the impact they had on us. However, when asked why they teach, it’s highly unlikely – if not entirely impossible – that a teacher will tell you that they do what they do for recognition, attention, accolades, or awards. In fact, teachers are a selfless crew of individuals, who feel called to teach by a desire to contribute to something bigger than themselves; to inspire and support new generations of thinkers and dreamers; to feel challenged every day; to express creativity; to see the world through the eyes of young people; and to nurture their own passions as lifelong learners. 

So, when Southridge Senior School English teacher, Mr. Paul Chiarenza, was recognized last year by a former student who named him the secondary school teacher who was the most influential instructor of their scholastic career, he was both surprised and deeply honoured. “I was honestly gob smacked when I found out,” says Mr. Chiarenza.

In 2022, former Southridge student, Yutong Hou, a graduate of Stanford University’s School of Humanities and Sciences with a BAH Art History and English Literature and a Minor in CSRE, was awarded the J.E. Wallace Sterling Award for Scholastic Achievement. The award is named after President Sterling, who served as Stanford’s president from 1949 to 1968, and as chancellor until 1985. Established in 2006, the award is one of Stanford's most selective recognitions of a student's overall academic performance. The top 25 graduating seniors in the School of Humanities and Sciences are honoured for their efforts and academic achievements throughout their undergraduate education. The award also includes recognition of the secondary school teacher whom the awardee names as the most influential instructor of their scholastic career. For Yutong, that teacher was Mr. Chiarenza.

“Brilliantly funny, Mr. Chiarenza was the first teacher to give me permission to not tiptoe around English, to which I always felt like a foreigner,” said Yutong. "He brought lightness to something I found overly precious and showed me that English belonged to me, too.” 

“Yutong was a fabulous student and an even more amazing person,” says Mr. Chiarenza. “Her love of learning and infectious attitude definitely had an impact on me, but I was surprised to hear that it was reciprocated.”

In the award certificate, presented to Mr. Chiarenza by a representative from Stanford University, he shared that “one of the most impressive aspects of Yutong’s time at Southridge was her ability to improve the mood of everyone fortunate enough to be in a classroom with her. Her unique ability to elevate those around her in a discussion-based learning environment and her phenomenal levity made teaching her the most enjoyable part of my day.” Mr. Chiarenza is equally as doting when speaking about all his students, about his passion for teaching, and about Southridge School. His face lights up, his smile deepens, and he exudes a joy and enthusiasm that comes from a place of true love and adoration for what he does every day.

“There is an energy in this building that only exists for me when there are kids in it. I find that their energy is what fuels me. I want my students to find joy in everything that they do. Many of them don’t realize that the concept of fun and learning are not mutually exclusive and that often, if there is excitement around being at school, the learning is not far behind."

Contributed by Erin Labbé, Communications and Marketing
Originally published in Spirit Magazine - Fall 2022