David City High School teacher Jarod Ockander loves to see his students win championships in play production and speech. But seeing students develop their skills is the big reward.

Ockander was the recipient of the 2015 Nebraska Speech, Communication, and Theater Association’s John Thurber Distinguished Teaching Award on Friday, Oct. 2 at the Downtown Holiday Inn in Lincoln, Nebraska at the association's annual convention. This award is presented to a person that has been teaching longer than seven years.

The honor is designed to recognize individuals who have displayed exceptional teaching ability, innovation in teaching methods, and contributions to the growth and professionalism of the organization in speech, communication/publications, and theater in the state of Nebraska.

Ockander was nominated for the award by 2015 DCHS graduate Allegra Hardin.

She presented the award on behalf of the hundreds of students Ockander has mentored, nurtured, supported, and guided in his 19 years of teaching and coaching.

“Mr. Ockander has the unique ability to recognize talents in others—talents they, themselves may not even be aware of. Personally, Mr. Ockander was not only my coach, but also my mentor and motivator. In my freshman year, he challenged me to compete in the horrifying event of extemporaneous speaking.”

Hardin didn’t qualify for district competition that year, but the teacher wouldn’t let her quit. She went on to become a state champion, both in high school competition and in the American Legion’s Oratorical competition.

“His example as a teacher, coach and mentor has inspired so many young artists and was also instrumental in my choice to pursue a degree in communications with the goal of teaching others the art of this life skill,” Hardin said.

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The nomination also included a statement from colleague Becky Stahr: “As a director and teacher, Jarod ignites a passion for speech and theater into every one of his students. When I watch his students compete, they are fine tuned to perfection, but they also love what they do. He practices on their schedule and sacrifices his own. Jarod changes the lives of each student that walks through his door.”

Upon receiving the award, Ockander said, “Past winners of this award have been among the finest educators our state has in Speech, Play Production, and Debate. To be considered among these individuals means that I have been blessed with great students and opportunities throughout my career. I am truly humbled and honored for the recognition.”

Ockander thanked his family and instructional role models such as Carole Carraher, Patsy Koch Johns, and Matt Davis for their support and influence upon his professional career.

“One aspect of the arts is the process by which students get better through practice and performances is a means to an end, but the process itself is also transforming,” Ockander said. “That's what makes our area so educational is that when students undergo the process, they, themselves are also changed for the better. Allegra is representative of many of the students I have coached and taught, I hope. I want to keep providing opportunities and experiences for students that they've not considered, so that is the responsibility that this award carries - continuing to advocate for young people.”

Originally from Wisner, Ockander attended college at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. He received his bachelor’s degree in English and Political Science Education.

He has been an English teacher and coach of play production and speech at David City High School for 18 years. During this time, Ockander’s teams have earned two team state play production championships and five runner-up play production state trophies.

He also holds five team state speech championships and three runner-up state speech trophies. He has proudly led students to 108 individual state speech medals and 24 individual state speech champions. Five of Ockander’s students qualified for the national tournament of the National Speech and Debate Association, formerly known as the National Forensics League.

Ockander and his wife Sara have two daughters, Laurel and Lydia.

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