As students across the country go to school for the last days before the school year ends, teachers and the extraordinary difference they can make in young people’s lives is in sharp focus. This was certainly the case at a recent Marymount of Santa Barbara gathering in honor of beloved Marymount history teacher Andy Siegel.

Alumni students and parents, past heads of school and past board members joined current students, trustees, teachers and parents to celebrate the impact of an extraordinary teacher. The party, which took place on an outdoor patio overlooking downtown Santa Barbara and the Pacific at the newly renovated El Encanto Hotel, was so packed that it was hard to get through the crowd.

Over the course of 19 years of teaching, a teacher can build up a significant fan base. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, attended the party and joined in the toasts made by former Head of School Dolores Pollock, current Head of School Andrew Wooden and Middle School Division Head Lyn Shirvanian.

A very moving tribute was made by seventh-grade student Leila Parker. She wrote and read a poem that describes Siegel’s ability to bring history “alive” for his students. Here’s an excerpt:

… From Ancient Rome to Modern China
Wax museums, model designing
Everyday’s a new adventure
Imagine, Explore, Create, Re-enact!
There is nobody like
Mr. Siegel
You put us inside the battle,
We were Captains, Warriors, Farmers and Kings!
You asked us what would we do?
Your wisdom gave us wings
There is nobody like
Mr. Siegel …

Siegel seemed genuinely moved by the poem. He was also touched when presented with a large, framed photograph of Marymount’s historic Tea House and pool.

Pollock told the gathered group how Siegel came to Marymount 19 years ago after serving in the military and successfully working in Hollywood. Teaching was a “second career” for him, she explained, and he brought a wealth of experience to his teaching.

Without a doubt, Siegel brought flair and a bit of Hollywood glamour to Marymount. He is famous for the personal talks he delivered at graduation about every graduating student. Many students and parents in attendance at Siegel’s retirement party talked about the resonance that the words he wrote and spoke at graduation still have for them today.

Siegel’s reputation as an astute judge of character was mentioned by several guests, as was his sense of humor, wit and knowledge of politics and current events.

Although Siegel is formally retiring, his connection to Marymount remains strong and he has promised to return to the school to teach debate and other electives. Knowing this was comforting to the gathered guests at the El Encanto, one of Siegel’s favorite locations in Santa Barbara and just around the corner from Marymount.

Those guests too shy to make toasts lined up for long periods of time to write a kind word or two in a book for Siegel and his wife, Sharon. Glancing at the entries, it was clear to see what an incredible difference a teacher can make in people’s lives.

Marymount is an independent coeducational school, junior kindergarten through eighth grade, on a picturesque 10-acre campus nestled on the Santa Barbara Riviera. Building on a 75-year tradition of excellence, the educators at Marymount have crafted a unique learning experience that blends mastery of core subjects with acquisition of the essential skills students need to navigate and be successful in a rapidly evolving world.

— Molly Seguel is the admissions director for Marymount of Santa Barbara.