How many people can say a high school play changed their life? I can and it's because of my inspiring teacher who wrote that play, Sharon Ferranti.
Ferranti's play tackled a difficult issue – AIDS. For many Americans, the impact of AIDS in the mid-1990s was little more than a blip on the nightly news. But for Ferranti, it consumed her life.
"When you're 65 and 70, 75 you expect to have gone to a lot of funerals and hospitals. You expect to be watching your people go," Ferranti said. "That's not supposed to happen when you're in your mid-30s."
In an effort to cope, Ferranti turned her struggle into a work of art -- a play called "The Age of Discretion." The play is about a high school class on the eve of graduation, and then follows the class 10 years later as the impact of the insidious disease takes its toll.
"It seemed like one small thing that I could do that might make a difference," Ferranti said.
It wasn't surprising to me that Ferranti would choose a topic that had such a strong impact on her life. But the fact the students and my fellow actors performing would become so passionate about delivering this message was something no one could have expected.
The play not only had ties to Ferranti's personal struggle, it had family ties, as well. Ferranti's brother, Jay, wrote the music for the play.
My high school friends who also took part in the play agree it transformed them.
"I think it made me make consciously safer choices. I think ... it's as simple as that," former high school cast member Julie Knapp said.
"It wasn't easy but I felt like we were making a difference. And that was pretty huge. And it really sort of made me who I am today," former high school cast member Kate Turner said.
I recently went back to the place where I first met Ferranti -- The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston.
We sat in the theater where the play was first performed and cast members from various years joined us to pay tribute. There's no doubt she not only impacted and changed people's lives, but I believe she saved some people's lives, as well.
"You guys supported me as much as I did you. I just didn't have any idea how much it would hold me, how much it would carry me through the next few years of my life," Ferranti said.
But before our visit was over, there was one surprise left. Justin Furstenfeld, the lead singer of the rock band Blue October, was there to visit too. He was the original male lead in "The Age of Discretion." While he was there, he sang a song for the woman Furstenfeld, like all of the students, says inspired him.
"She's the one that really made me aware of what was going on in the world. And that there were other people outside of myself," Furstenfeld said.
I truly believe the experience of performing in "The Age of Discretion" helped me to get to where I am today with my work, with my confidence and with my self-worth. I have Ferranti to thank for a large part of that.
"To be remembered, any teacher to be remembered, to be recognized for -- especially for that work -- at that time. It was so hard for all of us. There aren't even words," Ferranti said.