Sometimes a well-planned path can lead to an unexpected outcome. This held true for Mat Dann.
Years ago when Mat Dann was looking ahead at college, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his father and brother. Both men had careers as local firefighters and Mat was headed as the second generation in his family to wear the helmet and suit.
Living in Auburn, N.H., Mat chose to attend Lakes Region Community College (LRCC). As one of the few with fire sciences degrees – which is ranked among the top five nationally – LRCC was the closest and most affordable choice for him to make.
“I saw the fire science program in Laconia and that was the next step for me.”
Elective classes within his degree program gave Mat an opportunity to explore classes that matched his personal interests beyond fire science. His interest in creative writing and literature led him to take elective classes in writing.
“I always liked writing and literature. I started taking some creative writing classes and they were a ton of fun and I really enjoyed them.”
Instructors can have a profound impact on students’ lives. Mat found that he was inspired by an LRCC writing professor, Art Deleault, who was both an exceptional teacher and someone devoted to his craft. For Mat, this turned into a special bond with the teacher and with the creative enterprise of writing.
“I enjoyed Art’s classes so much that not only did I take a lot of his classes, but I also re-took some of the classes multiple times. I just couldn’t get enough.”
After submitting one particularly creative assignment, Mat was asked to meet with his teacher after class.
“I knew my assignment was bizarre and I thought he was going to tell me that. But, then he said, ‘you should really think about writing, you have such an imagination.’ This was the first time I had anybody in my life urge me in another direction creatively. That 20-minute conversation truly stuck with me for the rest of my life and changed the course of everything.”
This pep talk stayed with Mat even as he completed his Fire Science degree and became an EMT in Boston. His schedule of working a 40-hour week in three days freed up time during the rest of the week to follow his passion for creative arts.
“I started doing comedy and taking classes at the Improv Asylum in the North End which became the beginning of polishing myself as a performer and led me to doing shows multiple times per week.”
The next step was to head to New York where he performed stand-up comedy while dabbling in small acting gigs between both cities. After stumbling into sketch comedy, he realized he could put his love for writing to use and pursue his passion in Los Angeles.
Now, nine years later, Mat is living in L.A. and working for the National Football League (NFL) as the outreach and accessibility coordinator. During his day job, he plans community events with NFL players and comedians at pediatric hospitals, nursing homes and homeless shelters. At night, he taps into the creative side he discovered through a special teacher and is now producing three of his own comedy shows on nights and weekends.
Just before the move to the west coast, Mat caught sight of his former English teacher at the Mall of New Hampshire but missed the chance to speak with Art.
“I have regretted that moment ever since. I wish I had just told him what he meant to me.”
While it has been almost two decades since he attended those English classes at LRCC, Mat has never forgotten about Art’s advice and credits him for the confidence to go down the path that has brought him so much personal and professional fulfillment. As Mat puts it, “Art was the snowflake that started the avalanche” and helped this student discover gifts he never knew he possessed.