As I was vegetating at my desk one day, the journalism teacher, Clarann Jacobs, asked me to stay after class for a few minutes. I thought I must be in some sort of trouble, which was usually the case. But she surprised me.
"You have a gift," she told me. "You have a natural talent for writing. You should think about pursuing that further."
It may have been the first time a teacher told me I was good at something. I took it to heart and began churning out writing assignments for Mrs. Jacobs.
In hindsight, I'm not sure she really believed I had a gift for writing. I suspect she told me that to make me believe it.
And I did.
That encounter and her class inspired me to go into journalism when I was in college and finally get serious about school. That led to a 40-plus-year career at The Salt Lake Tribune.
Mrs. Jacobs, who later became Clarann Larsen through a second marriage, died Monday. The news created an outpouring on social media, with former students gushing about the impact she had on them.
She started her career at Skyline in 1964, two years after the school opened. She retired from there 43 years later, after teaching and guiding thousands of students. A plaque in the school's main hallway celebrates her as a member of the Skyline Hall of Fame.
In the 1980s, the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists honored her service.
At the time, we counted more than 70 former Skyline students who had become professional journalists, and she went on to teach and inspire students for 20 more years after that.
"Horizon class was always seventh period, and was a very free-form class because Mrs. Jacobs trusted and respected the students selected for the staff, and they likewise respected and honored her," said Nancy Hobbs, a former Tribune reporter.
"She definitely was a big reason I became a journalist," said Rex Nutting, a writer for the national business publication MarketWatch. "I had to beg her for a spot on the newspaper, because my first efforts at journalism were so sad. But she believed in me and many others."
That theme paying attention to the one while touching the lives of the many comes up over and over in Mrs. Jacobs' former students.
Said Mary Dickson, creative director at KUED-Channel 7: "She was a major influence in the lives of so many of us, as a teacher and a loving mentor. It didn't end after you left her classroom. She remained a good friend to many of us long after graduation,"
And this from Fred Kempe, former foreign correspondent and bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal and current president and CEO of the Atlantic Council, an international-affairs think tank: "Clarann Jacobs changed my life and that of thousands of others for the better. She mentored and inspired countless students with her kind soul, her demanding standards and her deep belief that great journalism lay at the heart of a free America."
I imagine many people have at least one teacher in their past who inspired them to pursue a certain academic field and even changed their lives.
Now, we are in an era when public school teachers get disrespected by some elected officials. We've seen legislation that chains teachers to mandated test results. We've seen grades for schools, and, by extension, teachers, with little regard for the challenges that diversity and income disparity bring to the classroom.
Utah remains mired in last place in spending per student, which is one reason concerned business leaders propose bypassing the Legislature by putting an income-tax increase to fund education directly on the ballot. A leader of that group: Zions Bank President Scott Anderson, a Skyline graduate.
More funding for schools sure would be a nice way to say thanks to the Mrs. Jacobs of the world.