From Our Alumni: Writing After Westminster

“My college professors were consistently impressed with the level of my writing ability compared to that of my peers. I felt completely equipped for college as a result of the writing program at Westminster. I am still extremely thankful to Mr. Hughes and Mrs. Keith for the wisdom they imparted. I graduated with an English degree with a creative writing emphasis as well as with departmental honors. I especially owe my love of literature to Mr. Hughes and have nothing but fond memories of my English experience at Westminster.” – Libby McDonald Beldner ’07


“Scott Holley taught me how to think clearly and write clearly. Both disciplines have served me well through my career, as most of my work communication is written.” – Jerry Hertzler ’84


“The Westminster writing program may have been the most significant and impactful academic preparation I received for life and my professional career. Barbara Heimburger’s classes, including AP English during my senior year, taught me how to write effectively. The one-on-one conferences with her were extremely beneficial and set me up well to succeed as a history major at the Air Force Academy, as a law student at St. Louis University, and in 15 years of law teaching and practice. For the past five years, I have taught legal research and writing to sophomore college students at the Air Force Academy and, in both my teaching and professional roles, have found myself constantly returning to the fundamental principles of writing I learned from Mrs. Heimburger. The copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style that she gave me upon graduation from Westminster is still a treasured possession.” – Jeremy Marsh ’91


“I want to thank Jill Keith for teaching me how to write five-paragraph essays. My senior Advanced Expository Writing class wasn’t easy, but it was so incredibly helpful to me. Learning how to structure a cohesive essay was an indispensable skill in college! I’m also thankful that strong writing was emphasized even in 7th grade. In Miss Landes’ English 7 class, I was already learning how to tell linear stories and to communicate thoughts clearly. I was rarely returned an essay that wasn’t marked up, which I used to think was the end of the world. ‘Does she hate me?!’ I sometimes thought. Only now do I see how crucial editorial input is, as I became the editor of my college yearbook (shout-out to Scott Vonder Bruegge!) and regularly write articles for that publication. Not a day goes by that I don’t use skills I learned at Westminster. I am so grateful that my parents sacrificed and chose to send my brother and me to Westminster; it was well worth the tuition.” – Erin Guthrie ’11

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“Dr. Holley was incredible! He would sit down and personally conference with each of us over our rough drafts, then give us the chance to revise and edit as needed. It meant so much that he would take the time to do that; you could tell he was passionate about writing and personally cared about us. He wanted us to succeed. He also made learning and writing so engaging through his creative  approaches to teaching. I still ‘LOVE comma consciousnesses!’ And of course, who can forget The Awful Eight?” – Amanda Baca ’00

“Westminster provided an excellent foundation of writing skills that I use today in both my day job as a software quality assurance consultant and in my work as an author. I had a near-drowning experience several years ago and had to rebuild my faith because I realized I wasn’t ready to go. What started as some simple journal entries ended up as part of my first book, Rude Awakening: What If Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong? I am slowly but surely working on my second book. I am grateful for the quality of education I received at Westminster and hope to send my three kids there in the future.” – Mark Donnelly ’88


“Dr. Holley took the time to sit with each one of his students after each of their essays and walk through them page by page. He wasn’t just looking for correct grammar and spelling; he challenged us to examine our clarity, ingenuity, and logic. He always made us redo our essays. I remember being vulnerable at the time, as the process was difficult, but the lingering effect was that it made me love the (often) painstaking process of refining my words. Later, as an anthropology major in college, all I did was write. I’m so thankful for Dr. Holley and others at Westminster like him who went the extra mile knowing that we were capable of more than our first, or even third, drafts.” – Jill Ridderbos Fager ’07


“Westminster has, without a doubt, impacted my writing skills and made a lasting impact on me. At Westminster, Mrs. Keith and Mr. Vonder Bruegge taught me not only to write but to write well. Mrs. Keith challenged us to think logically. ‘What makes sense? What do I need to edit out or add to my paper?’ Not only did she challenge us, but she also encouraged us and built upon our successes. Often, she would tell me, ‘Not yet, but try again, Natalie!” When I learned from my mistakes and understood a concept that improved my writing, she was the first one to encourage me. She would even let the whole class know when their peer did well! When I write 12-page papers for my college classes, I am able to write easily without a second glance and edit for errors that she taught me to find. Mr. Vonder Bruegge also made an impact on me. When I wrote stories for the yearbook, he would challenge me to think more deeply about what I was trying to portray. ‘What do you want to communicate? What mood are you describing? Make the reader feel like they were present in that moment.’ His advice has stuck with me to this day. I also appreciated the professional experience that came from Yearbook, as we had to meet deadlines and stay on top of tasks. It was challenging, but he made hard work worth it as we learned both good writing skills and communication skills. Westminster has an incredible writing department; I’m so thankful to have learned from these great teachers!” – Natalie Bell ’13


“I always felt that I had a huge leg up in college compared to my peers in the area of writing. I wanted to write Mr. Vass a letter when I graduated college thanking him for giving me (all of us) such a good foundation. Westminster’s writing program is outstanding, evidenced in the reading choices, the vocabulary, the way grammar and sentence structure is taught, the amount of writing we did, and the high grading standards. Mrs. Kinmonth, Dr. Holley, Mr. Vass. I am a math/science person but I LOVED all the English classes at Westminster. I’m so grateful for everything I learned. – Natalie Dixon Bland ’02


“Westminster’s English department was one of the school’s strengths, and the lessons I learned from my middle and high school English teachers directly affected the novel I wrote a couple years ago. Some of my favorite memories of classes at Westminster are of 8th grade English with Mrs. Bye. She used to go through the novels we read, page by page, and point out her favorite phrases, the strongest verbs, the best characterization through dialogue. She taught me the impact that a single sentence or even just a well-chosen word can have, and I learned the importance of taking the time to choose words wisely. Also, in my junior year American Literature class with Mr. Graham, we analyzed every novel we read thoroughly, and not just for its literary value. The class discussions he led were equal to many of the ones I had in my college literature courses, and I had some of them in mind as I wrote my own novel, A Shopkeeper’s Daughter.” – Rachel Wisdom ’07