Leanna's 2018 Commencement Speech for Edgewood High School
(Thu, 31 May 2018)
Edgewood High School staff, Leanna at center: To left, Becky Simpson and right, Sue Combs: Influential Teachers
Hello My Dears! This past weekend I had the honor of addressing my Alma Mater, as
I was asked to be this year's Commencement Speaker. In addition to offering brief words of wisdom and encouragement to the graduates, I was asked to honor two influential teachers who have been a
part of my success as an actor, playwright and multi-published author. It was an incredible, meaningful, unforgettable experience. As promised, here's the speech. I hope it inspires you!
Saturday, May 26th, Edgewood High School Class of 2018 Commencement Speech, Millet
Hall, Oxford Ohio, Leanna Renee Hieber
It’s incredible to be back here, in this space, in front of Edgewood graduates. In
1997 when I was Edgewood’s Valedictorian, this was the biggest audience I’d ever had. Thanks for giving me another chance in front of a stadium crowd!
Since growing up in Ohio, attending Edgewood, then Miami University, I’ve been all
around the country. In 2005, I landed in New York City to pursue theatre and writing. In 2009 my first set of novels, called Strangely Beautiful, were
published. Now with over ten novels under my belt for various publishers and more on the way, I wear lots of hats. I remain an actress, I’m also a tour guide, artist and a speaker around the
country. I’m blessed to say I make my living exclusively in the arts in the big city. As you can guess, I could never choose between performing and writing, so I chose both. That’s why, when I
was asked to honor one of my Edgewood teachers today, I couldn’t choose just one.
Becky Simpson, English teacher, writing teacher, head of our Drama club and also
often a director of plays, and Sue Combs, choir teacher, Choralier teacher, also a director of plays and musicals: You both were utterly foundational in fostering my well-rounded career in the
You each had a unique way of teaching that came from your individual voice and
passion This ignited ours. You approached your classes like an invitation, inviting us to find, in your lessons, a common ground with our own interests, an enjoyment and an excitement. You didn’t
demand we love literature or music as much as you did, you invited us to. Those of us who chose to really
show up at the table where you’d set a feast; we were nourished by your enthusiasm, your commitment, and your quirky ways of making learning fun. My freshman year was bookended by both of you as
my directors for the fall play and the spring musical, and we all went from there. All the seeds you planted grew healthy and strong. Those of us who joined you in extra-curricular activities got
the chance to expand on what you fostered in the classroom. These invitations of yours became my professions. I am so grateful. I’m so thrilled to present each of you with this Influential
Now, Edgewood High, class of 2018, my goodness, is this moment exciting or what?! When I’m
asked to give a bit of advice from my own experience working in fields I love, the core lesson really is to follow your dreams. I know, it sounds so trite and worn out, but the core of what makes
you- just you, original, unique you, is priceless. A group of writers could each be given the exact same writing prompt and all of us would come up
with completely different stories. Don’t worry about being any other voice but your own. Cherish diversity and uniqueness within yourself and in others. Foster your own individual strengths. Take
moments along the way to lift up others around you as you grow, learn, develop new insights and become more well-rounded. A mind that’s constantly learning is the healthiest. We’re all
individuals, but no one makes it in the world alone. Everything ‘takes a village’ as they say, and because of everyone’s inherent uniqueness, everyone has something special to offer.
Because the world is full of unexpected twists and turns, I encourage everyone to
foster not just one dream, but a few. Opportunities don’t come via just one channel, or in the ways we expect, and certainly not on a time table we can predict. Industries are constantly
shifting. Mine have changed radically and I’ve raced to try to keep up. If you’re adaptable, and good at not just one thing but several, and can redirect your focus where its most advantageous,
you’ll fashion a rewarding life rising to challenges and opportunities accordingly. You’ll set an example others can follow when they don’t know what to do next. Try a few things next.
Seek out things you don’t hate doing. Whether you’re going into further education,
taking time off, going right into a trade; whatever makes your heart beat, matters. Getting stuck in any kind of work or study you hate is really
difficult. Often, it’s unavoidable, but it can be temporary. Personally, and no offense to the profession, I hated my temp-job as a paralegal. Again, no offense to the corporation, but I hated
working at Starbucks. Once a talent agency I worked for put me inside a Pillsbury doughboy suit at the General Mills headquarters. Not my finest day, but that one paycheck paid me far more than
the Tennessee Williams play I was starring in that night, so I did those temporary things for the larger goal. Sometimes you have to do absurd things to get by, while you try to get in somewhere
you don’t hate. Keep your spirits up in the meantime. Laughing about it helps. That day in the Doughboy suit? I wrote about that ridiculous day and it
turned into my first professional writing gig for Dramaticsmagazine. Who’d have thought?
I’m very blessed to have jobs where I create characters and take them on
fantastical adventures, to work behind the camera and in front of it, to write for the stage and speak at comic-cons and conventions. But the long, winding road to get here continues to twist and
turn as the industries I’m in face constant change and uncertainty, so the advice I’m giving is one I keep taking.
You’re at such an important time, but I know it’s a spooky one too. Big changes
are difficult. Not knowing exactly how the next phase of your life will play out can be very stressful. I think it’s part of the human condition to worry, but change is just as equal a reality of
the human condition. There are always questions to be asked and doors to open. It’s hard to think of life being a series of unresolved questions, but a question mark is also an invitation. An opportunity for innovation. A chance to let good, new, exciting things in.
My favorite poet and philosopher Rainer Maria Rilke has a quote from his
collected Letters to a Young Poet that I think of nearly every day:
“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try
to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not
be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the
I invite you to live boldly,
creatively, adaptively into your answers.
Thank you, blessings and good luck.
>> Read More
Announcing Leanna's new one-woman show BY THE LIGHT OF TIFFANY: A Meeting with Clara Driscoll
(Thu, 08 Mar 2018)
As many of you dear readers know, I’ve an extensive background in classical theatre, including
adaptation of 19th century literature for the professional stage which manifested into one-woman shows. I’m thrilled that providence has brought me back around to favorite subject
matters and old friends. My many Gaslamp Fantasy novels channel bold, dynamic Victorian women as they struggle to make their way in a restrictive world and now I’ll be doing the channeling more
directly: portraying a historical visionary I admire very much.
I’m presently developing By the Light of Tiffany: A
Meeting with Clara Driscoll, a one-woman show about a pioneering female designer at the core of the decorative arts movement in Gilded Age America. An award-winning artist, Clara was
responsible for designing Tiffany Studios’ most iconic glass lamps and managed the Womens’ Glass Cutting Department- the “Tiffany Girls”- at Tiffany’s New York studios at the end of the
19th century and into the early 20th Century. This hour long celebration of visionary women, passion, determination and the transcendent beauty of art will be adapted and interpreted
from the wonderful wealth of Clara Pierce Wolcott Driscoll’s letters, historical records and inspiring aspects of her unique story.
Clara Pierce Wolcott Driscoll
The show premieres September 7th in mine and Clara’s home state of Ohio, just down the street
from one of the only stained glass companies left in North America, BeauVerre Riordan Glass in Middletown. (Premiere Details
After the premiere the show will travel to historic homes, museums and artistic institutions
around the country. This is a truly wonderful confluence of my artistic interests and talents. Performances will fold seamlessly into my writing life as I continue writing novels set in
the late 19th century that highlight the importance of women leaders and the transcendent power of art and atmosphere. (Yes, Clara Driscoll appears as a featured character in one of my
Further Details about the show:
By the Light of Tiffany: A Meeting with Clara
Award-winning author, playwright and classically trained actress Leanna Renee Hieber channels
the talented artist Clara Wolcott Driscoll, designer of iconic Tiffany lamps and the manager of the Women’s Glass Cutting department of Tiffany Studios. Infused with passion and dedication,
By the Light of Tiffany is a one hour celebration of art and vision, a one-woman show adapted from
Driscoll’s personal letters, historical record and inspiring insights, showcasing the vitality, innovation and importance of women in the decorative arts movement.
A native of Tallmadge, Ohio, Driscoll was encouraged by a loving, tight-knit family to pursue
higher education and after studying first at the Cleveland Institute of Art and then the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, she was hired by Louis Comfort Tiffany to work in his
Tiffany Studios and soon was given managerial responsibilities. Driscoll oversaw the “Tiffany Girls”, the Women’s Glass Cutting Department of the Studio and designed many of Tiffany’s most iconic
lamps, including the Dragonfly, Wisteria, and Daffodil lamps. Driscoll won first place for her Dragonfly Lamp design at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and was noted as one of the highest paid women
of the Gilded Age ($10,000 per year), at a time when women made 60% less than men. She oversaw over 50 women at the department’s height and was an active artist her entire life.
Leanna Renee Hieber grew up in Hamilton, Ohio and graduated from Miami University with a BFA in
theatre performance and a focus in the 19thCentury. A member of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s first Young Company, she went on to work in regional theatres around the country
doing Shakespeare, classical theatre and adapting 19th century literature for the professional stage. An award-winning, critically acclaimed author of over 10 Historical Fantasy novels
such as the Strangely Beautiful saga, considered a foundation work of Gaslamp Fantasy, the Magic Most Foul
saga and the new Eterna Files trilogy with Tor Books. Her work has been featured in notable anthologies and several of her books have been included
national book club editions and translated into languages such as Polish, Complex Chinese and German. A New York City resident for twelve years, she is a licensed New York City tour guide, a
member of AEA, SAG-AFTRA and has been featured in film and television on shows like Boardwalk Empire and Mysteries at the Museum.
By the Light of Tiffany debuts Sept 7th as a part of the First Fridays Concert and Artist Series in Middletown, OH,
thanks to many Ohio arts council groups:
Would you like to bring Clara into your institution? For future booking arrangements, please
note Leanna’s Appearance schedule thus far and use the contact form on the Appearances page of her
website to inquire about rates and details.
Blessings of color and light!
>> Read More