Richard Mullen (AKA Mr. Mullen), Cape Elizabeth High School (CEHS) Teacher Extraordinaire

Teaching at CEHS (including English, theatre, and speech & debate) 1976-Present.


My most beloved teachers and mentors were those who challenged me. Junior year at Cape Elizabeth High School (CEHS), 1982-1983, I was challenged by Richard Mullen, AKA Mr. Mullen. Mr. Mullen challenged me to write what I was thinking, not what I thought people wanted to hear. I also participated in theatre and the speech and debate team, but English was my favorite of Mr. Mullen’s classes.

It was an oversight that I had not thanked Mr. Mullen in person.

So this past Father’s Day weekend, I had the pleasure of reuniting with Mr. Mullen, on his front lawn at Higgins (no apostrophe) Beach in Scarborough Maine for a trip down memory lane with my daughter Sonja.

Is was Sonja, you see, who prompted this reunion, as she, too, has a mentor (Mr. Joshua Mishrikey, Acton-Boxborough Regional High School (ABRHS)) who similarly challenged her. So while Sonja and I were on our college visit “tour” this past April, Sonja encouraged me to get back in touch with Mr. Mullen.

The three of us ate lobster rolls (from Bayle’s Lobster Pound, Pine Point, Scarborough, Maine) and talked of many things. Mr. Mullen had an uncanny memory for teachers, staff, and students.

Mr. Mullen shared with me the story about how he had defended my (admittedly nontraditional) MIT college application essay (which I wrote on the topic of sawdust) to the guidance counselors, who recommended a more traditional approach. Of course I ignored the advice of the guidance counselors and was admitted to MIT. Mr. Mullen has re-told this story many times as an example of the importance of not always coloring inside of the lines.

To make sure that Sonja had learned this point, I quizzed her about what I had taught her about authority. She answered, “That you should have a healthy respect for authority, and a healthy disrespect.” Correct.

As I said in my thank-you letter to Mr. Mullen:

From my years at Cape Elizabeth High School, I have kept my notes from only two classes: senior year calculus and your junior year English class. The former gave me a 15-minute head start on freshman year calculus at MIT. The latter serves to remind me that it was in your class where I learned to write, which is essentially what I now do for a living.

I have always said that my success with [my] first book was due to above average writing skills and perfect timing. The latter cannot be taught. The former I attribute to you.

Our text for junior year English was Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style,” a book I have purchased many times for many people. Strunk & White packed a lot of learning into those (approximately) 100 pages, and Mr. Mullen packed a lot of learning into his class. I, of course, kept my copy from the 1982-1983 school year. I asked Mr. Mullen to write in it. He wrote, in part:

Best from your old English teacher, to whom you give way too much credit.

If I am over-selling my point, then Mr. Mullen is under-selling his.

I have referenced Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style” in half a dozen articles but have never actually written a review of that book (another oversight):

  1. Google’s Antisocial Social Networking (2009-03-12)
    Google Reader’s new Comments feature highlights the major flaw with Google social networks: baffling user interfaces.
  2. Morphs Into Get To Know Me! (2006-03-23)
    The only thing that’s constant is change. Get used to it.
  3. The ‘Three Full Moons’ Clause (2004-02-17)
    Simplify contracts by omitting needless words.
  4. How To Write, Copyright, And Publish Your Own Book (2002-11-19)
    Self-publishing books is much easier than it used to be. It can also be fun and, if you do it well, profitable.
  5. The Truth About Stats And Dogs (Or Why Most Surveys Are Wrong) (1997-05-01)
    All statistics are hearsay, but some are reliable hearsay.

Teaching is a grand and wonderful calling. I had the pleasure of teaching at Maine Law for a few years and I loved it. I am certain that my story is not unique and that Mr. Mullen’s influence extends far beyond the classroom or stage. If I do end up teaching in the next phase of my career, then I hope to have the same impact on my students as he has had on his.

And for those CEHS Class of 1984 classmates reading this, Mr. Mullen wants to be invited to the next reunion!

Although I tried mightily to “omit needless words” (as Strunk & White would have wanted) from this article, I do note on my blog ( that brevity is not my strong suit.

Erik claims to publish the #1 blog about technology, law, baseball, and rock ā€˜nā€™ roll at Brevity is not his strong suit.

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17 Seconds #11

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