UNION COUNTY — Ralph Lawson, Jr. is the 2015-2016 Union County High School Teacher of the Year.
During a UCHS faculty meeting on Dec. 18, it was announced that Lawson — who is currently in his 34th year of teaching — is the current teacher of the year for the school. Principal Betsy Trakas spoke about Lawson’s value to the school and students.
“I can’t think of any teacher who would be any more deserving of this honor than Ralph,” Trakas said. “What he gives to his students is immeasurable. Not only do they learn academically, but he teaches them life skills. At the same time, the students are having so much fun learning and performing, they probably don’t fully realize the value of all they are receiving in Ralph Lawson’s drama class.”
Trakas said the transformation students undergo as a result of Lawson’s classes is evident.
“I can see students go into his class and blossom as they develop a positive self concept and a greater sense of responsibility and teamwork with the goal of a stellar performance in mind,” Trakas said.
When the announcement was made, a video was shown with messages from dozens of Lawson’s former students. One of those students was David Thomas Jenkins who works as a professional actor and has done so since his time at College of Charleston after graduating from Union High School in 1998. Jenkins said he was asked to give an interview after finishing a role on the Disney Channel’s “Girl Meets World.”
“One of the questions was, ‘How did you decide to move forward on this path to becoming an actor?’” Jenkins said. “In true form of keeping with Girl Meets World and its theme, I said I had some really great teachers. I had some really great teachers at the College of Charleston, but it all started when I was a kid in drama camps with Ralph Lawson and continued in high school where my love of theatre, acting, drama — storytelling, really — came to fruition. And that was all because Mr. Lawson being such an inspiring teacher and being able to pull talent out of me I didn’t really know I had.”
Another former student, Michael Smallwood, also continued a theatre career after high school — acting, stage managing and even teaching.
“I think every success I’ve had in theatre can be tied directly back to what I learned from Mr. Lawson,” Smallwood said.
Lawson’s son, Trey, also spoke in the video, expressing that he is proud of his father as both a former student and his son.
“Over the years, I’ve seen the impact you’ve had on students — not just in the classroom but in friendships that have lasted over the years,” Trey said.
Former student Neely Swygert said she wants Lawson to know how much he is loved and how proud of him his former students are.
“I hope you know how many lives you’ve changed and how many memories from high school we all have that revolve around the drama department and your family,” Swygert said.
Another former student, Steven Owensby, is now a pastor, and he also credited Lawson’s class with helping him in his current position.
“I was thinking to myself how difficult it was being in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ because I was so shy,” Owensby said. “I began to gain the confidence I needed, and because of that kind of confidence, I can now stand in front of people for the Lord.”
Lawson’s former student Jason Rector is also currently pursuing a theatre career in Los Angeles. Rector said of all the teachers he had, Lawson was a special one.
“When I think of Mr. Lawson and what I learned from him, confidence was the biggest,” Rector said. “He had a way of finding your strength and encouraging it, and he did it with all of his students. Especially at that age in high school, when I think everyone struggles with confidence, it was so invaluable to have that from a teacher. Not just as a performer, but as a person. To this day, that kind of confidence has carried on and it stayed with me through college and to this day.”