A returning learner who started college in her mid-30s, Dianna Graveman rediscovered her passion for writing while taking classes part-time at St. Charles Community College. She then went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees with high honors, teach grade school and college, and become a successful published writer from the moment she submitted her first story.
The past few years have yielded a whirlwind of 27 published pieces including stories in books such as the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series, "Teacher Miracles," "Cup of Comfort for Grandparents," and "Letters to My Mother." Most recently, she received international recognition in the Erma Bombeck writing competition, earning Honorable Mention in the global category for human interest out of 1,300 entries from 22 countries and 47 states. In April 2007, Graveman received two Missouri Writers Guild Awards for work published in 2006. Three more stories were published in 2007, and she has collected numerous other writing and leadership awards.
Middle age has been productive for Graveman, an admitted late scholastic bloomer. As a child, Graveman had been a voracious reader, kept written journals, and was in awe of her grandmother, a published poet. They read poems together, and Graveman never forgot the satisfaction and fulfillment that resulted. But after high school came work, marriage, and children, and she had put higher education on hold.
"I didn’t have a lot of confidence attending college after being out of high school for 15 years," Graveman said, "but I had a supportive family, and that was a recipe for success." She said she also received strong support from her teachers at SCC, and soon she was a full-time student taking all the English and composition classes she could find among her 60 hours of general education courses. That she would choose to start her college education at SCC made perfect sense, she said, since about half of all first-time freshmen in the United States begin at community colleges.
After SCC, she transferred to the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where, at age 40, she graduated summa cum laude with a 3.96 grade point average and a bachelor’s degree in education. She received the University Scholar Award in 1994-1995 and was named to the Golden Key National Honor Society.
It was at UM that Graveman also began a continuing involvement in environmental issues. She received a commendation for organizing and facilitating workshops at a campus forum on "Diverse Responses to Environmental Issues" where she worked with 350 area high school students and their teachers.
Graveman had her first teaching experience in 1997 at the Academy of the Sacred Heart School in St. Charles, and from 2000-2006 she taught in the Fort Zumwalt School District. In addition to teaching, she worked with students in the Earth Club, joined the Wilderness Society, and continued her work on environmental issues.
"Her love of written expression and her love of learning made Dianna a phenomenal educator," said Dr. Gregg Sartorius, principal of Ostmann Elementary where Graveman taught third and fourth graders and helped her young authors create their own literary anthology. "She touched so many young lives, and she was a natural to make the transition to post-secondary teaching. It was clear that doors would open for her in the future," Sartorius said.
Graveman loved teaching because it enabled her to "connect" and make a positive difference in young lives. Her own elementary school experiences were not fond memories, she said, emphasizing, "Education needs compassion." Compassion and its impact on students was an experience she later wrote about in her essay for "God Allows U-Turns for Women." The story shares her initial doubts about her own effectiveness as a teacher followed by an epiphany that in helping one particular student she had made a major difference to him and to others.
Teaching at the elementary level further stirred in Graveman her desire to express herself as a published writer. After all, she was encouraging students to use their imaginations, so why not do so herself? Accordingly, Graveman entered the new Master of Fine Arts degree program at Lindenwood University, where, "pushing 50 years old," she earned an MFA in writing in 2005 with a 4.0 grade point average.
Then, encouraged by her professors and with a growing confidence in her own skills, Graveman began teaching part-time at the college level, both at St. Charles Community College and at the University of Phoenix St. Louis campuses. She also began submitting her stories and articles for publication.
"Dianna was an exemplary student willing to expand her scope of writing and working hard to carry through with anything she attempted," said Michael Castro, professor of humanities and director of communication programs at Lindenwood University whom Graveman credits as her mentor. "She has a true gift for writing," Castro said.
Graveman had been an occasional freelance opinion columnist for the Suburban Journals, but it was in Castro’s class in 2005 that Graveman wrote and submitted her first piece published in a book. It was accepted, and there was no stopping her after that.
Graveman has written for magazines, newspapers, anthologies, and literary journals. Her subjects are inspired largely by her own experiences and, particularly, by the history, landscape, and environment of the American West, where she and her family have frequently traveled.
Nonfiction topics have included stories for teachers, teenagers, families, and travelers. Her story "Goodwill Cranes" was selected as "best in book" by the editor and publisher of "Teacher Miracles." It’s about a project she introduced to her fourth graders to construct 1,000 folded origami cranes and send them to Japan as an offering of goodwill among children of all nations.
She is particularly proud of her fiction writing because it challenged her to create characters and plot lines. She draws inspiration from her travels out west and has written about ghosts, relationships, crime, and environmental controversies over natural gas drilling. Her recently published "Perseids," about a couple who face personal struggles as they travel to the Colorado Rockies to watch the Perseid Meteor shower, is based on similar trips she and her husband have taken.
Graveman not only writes, but she has become a leader in the local community of writers, according to colleagues who supported her nomination for the SCC Outstanding Alumni Award. She has judged writing contests for the Missouri Writers Guild and was honored this year by the St. Louis Writers Guild with a "Member of Distinction" title for volunteering in community events, serving as a judge, and overall project leadership.
"Dianna has excellent skills, is careful and meticulous, and sets a good example for others," said Robin Theiss, president of the St. Louis Writers Guild. Graveman is one of the top writers of the 300-member organization and gives of her time and efforts in offering assistance to aspiring writers, Theiss said.
Graveman mixes her dual loves – writing and teaching – with zest and determination. "I’ve taught kindergarten to college and just about all grades in between. "It’s a thrill and a privilege to encourage and teach students to express themselves in writing."
If, at almost 50, she can stand before students having found joy, purpose, and meaningful work later in life, she said, then others, too, can follow their hearts and succeed no matter what their age or challenges. They can make a difference.
Graveman is especially fond of the Henry David Thoreau quote: "Be not simply good. Be good for something." She teaches its meaning to her students, and she lives it!