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Teachers Who Made a Profound Difference…. And Didn’t Know It!

Teachers Who Made a Profound Difference…. And Didn’t Know It!

A 3-Part Series

By Judith W. Umlas
August 30, 2023

If I ask any one of you who your all-time favorite teacher throughout your life and career was, there isn’t a bit of doubt in my mind that you will come up with someone – and it may be anyone, from your 3rd grade teacher to your favorite college professor. Well, as schools start reopening all over the world, we are starting this series of articles on Teachers who Made a Difference.

So let me start with an extremely dramatic example of this. IIL’s Head of Media, d.b. Roderick was having a relatively calm day, when he got a critical sounding call from a friend, telling him that a former student of his when he was an Artist in Residence at Emerson College and an Adjunct teaching in the Cinema Studies Division, was urgently trying to reach him. This was because the following day this person would be acknowledging him in an Emerson College graduation ceremony that would be televised nationally. And this former student was Pamela Abdy, herself a former Emerson College student who was now, oh by the way, Co-Chair and CEO of Warner Brothers Motion Pictures Group!

David was a bit puzzled, kind of mystified. He had had no idea of the impact he had had on this former student, but they did connect the next day before the ceremony. In a brief call, they caught up on the past 30 or so years, leaving him totally choked up as Pam recounted the impact he had had on her life, on her career.

Here are just a few highlights from the transcript of her 2023 Emerson College commencement speech, which you can see in its entirety here: https://vimeo.com/827771535/8a721b76ca?share=copy

“I signed up for a film class and it was film one with Dave Roderick, and it completely changed the trajectory of my life. David talked to me about composition and design. The camera is the filmmaker’s eye. It was choreography, storytelling, using music, lights, and movement. It all felt intuitive.

It was just like dance (her former career path until a serious foot injury redirected her), but with a new exciting set of instruments.

David recommended I read a book called They Can Kill You, but they Can’t Eat You. It was about a film executive and a producer named Dawn Steele. She was the first woman to run a movie studio, and that was it.

I found an entryway and a path, a new way to feed my soul the way dance did. Fast forward again this time to the LA program through Emerson and an internship at Jersey Films, which turned into a job.

And that first job set me on this journey that brings me here to you today. My point in sharing this story is that each of you has limitless potential and possibility within you as long as you stay open to it.

Life is a series of choices and encounters and experiences that shape who we become. Some may lead to failure, but each provides an opportunity to learn, to grow and to see beyond what you thought was your horizon.”


After the ceremony, Pamela and David decided to meet for an official reunion at Warner Brother’s in Los Angeles and are now regularly in touch.

And here’s an interesting footnote: When the relationship started with Pamela as a freshman film student, David also recommended and gave her another book written by Dawn Steele, the first woman executive of a major studio. He hoped it would inspire and guide her on her journey in the motion picture industry. And apparently, it did!  When they got together recently, he gave her yet another book, The Prophet by the Lebanese poet and author Kahili Gibran, which he hopes will guide her through life. And the rest will (continue to) be…history!

d.b. Roderick is head of IIL Media, a division of International Institute for Learning (IIL) that provides high-quality media services in North America as well as the 19 global offices located in Europe, Asia, Australia, and Latin America. The division is dedicated to producing innovative corporate training, sales and marketing videos, webinars, video conferencing, educational, and unique corporate documentary profiles. IIL Media production services are provided to in-house business client projects in the U.S., and internationally, as well as to new clients in the general corporate and small business sectors.

About the Author

Judith W. Umlas is Sr. Vice President, author, and trainer at International Institute for Learning (IIL), a global corporate training company.  She is the author of the ground-breaking book, The Power of Acknowledgment ©2006, IIL Publishing, New York, which has been credited with changing workplaces and lives by making use of the 7 Principles of Acknowledgment she developed. Her book on Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results was published by McGraw-Hill Professional in association with IIL in early 2013 and You’re Totally Awesome! The Power of Acknowledgment for Kids was published in late 2013 by IIL Publishing.

Judith delivers inspiring, motivational, and transformational keynote addresses on Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment all over the world. She also leads webinars and teaches full day virtual and traditional courses to organizations such as Volvo, the U.S. Army, Prudential, JMP Engineering, the World Bank, Fannie Mae, IBM, AT&T, Google, Amway, the U.S. Department of Justice, the New York Police Department, and many others. She has trained over 100,000 people through her leading edge, highly interactive and engaging courses, and keynotes – with outstanding and long-lasting results. She is also the Architect of IIL’s Center for Grateful Leadership, founded in 2016. Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment are Judith’s passion, her mission, and her purpose!

Judith Umlas is a presenter at this year’s IPM Day 2023! Check out all event details, registration, and speaker lineup here.

Browse Grateful Leadership Courses here.

Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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