Finding her cue: Ms O exits stage for retirement

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Grayson Salomon '22

Valerie O’Riordan is retiring after 22 years at Archbishop Riordan.

By Santino Woo '22, ARCHBISHOP RIORDAN HIGH SCHOOL

From her beginning aspirations of wanting to become an actor at the age of 19 to directing and writing several plays, it is safe to say that Valerie O’ Riordan’s career of shaping other peoples’ lives in the field of performing arts is a feat nothing short of successful and beautiful. 

Now, after 22 wonderful years of directing, stressful tech weeks, and script-writing, Archbishop Riordan’s beloved drama director has decided to close the curtains on her fulfilling career and begin a new chapter in retirement.

“I am very grateful that I have had a job in the arts for 22 years that I get paid very well for. I am very grateful for that,” O’ Riordan explained. “I got to run this department by myself, on my own, the way that I wanted for 18 of those years…and I have been just kind of hanging around and was waiting for my cue to retire.”

Embarking on her dreams at City College Long Beach and then at Long Beach State, O’ Riordan has seen it all. From teaching an acting class with masks to directing different plays regionally, and finally finding a home at Archbishop Riordan High School, where for 22 years, she has influenced and touched the lives of many young students. 

“I love Ms. O because I’ve known her since I was in the 8th grade and she’s always been a huge help to me,” Will Haskell ’22 explained. 

“I’ve never had her as a director but I’ve learned more from her than I have from anybody else. She’s just a wonderful person to be around. She’s funny, she’s kind, she’s considerate, and she’s really wise. She believes in what she says and she doesn’t really let other people influence her. That’s why I love Ms. O.” 

One huge lesson O’ Riordan has taught many students is the idea of “waiting for your cue,” which is a phrase that many students remember Ms. O constantly saying. It’s something that she lives by.

It’s about waiting for the right time to pursue and fulfill something that has been on the horizon for a while. It is just another example of the wisdom and influence that Ms. O has bestowed upon her students.

“Ms. O has been the glue of the drama department, and she will truly be missed by all, Marcella Fabre ’23 described. “Her energy and charisma has always inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and put myself out there.”

Ms. O has taught at Riordan since 2000 (Sophia Carrasquilla ’22)

While O’ Riordan has gracefully taught and influenced so many students at Archbishop Riordan, she also has learned a few things along the way, one of which is growing within herself and taking an opportunity to get her teaching credentials in 2009, which improved her teaching skills.. O’ Riordan also appreciated becoming a part of a loving and caring family within Riordan.  

An example of this family atmosphere that she pointed out happened on the night her father died. Though it was a painful night for her, she also views it as something beautiful.

 “I was directing ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’,” O’Riordan reminisced. “I know exactly where I was in the theater when my sister called, and I got off the phone call with her and I continued to rehearse for two more hours and…the minute that I told the cast, they magically, I didn’t even see it happen, but they formed a circle, they got a candle, and they went around the circle and said prayers and thanked my father for bringing me to this school. It was one of those moments where your students are teaching you…it was awesome.”

O’Riordan has definitely left her mark on Archbishop Riordan High School and will be missed. Her quirky, loving, compassionate, not-caring-what-anyone-else-thinks attitude is something that will be remembered for years to come. She has touched the lives of so many students with her inspiring words, life-changing stories, and straight-forward style of teaching, telling students how it is and not sugar-coating anything. 

There is a fearlessness and boldness to her character that students look up to. Though she may be hard on students, there is a reason for it. It is all out of love and the belief that any student can achieve great things. The love that Ms. O brings every day can be felt by students all across campus, one of which being Caton-Doval Santos ’22. 

“Ms. O chooses to carry herself with grace and positivity and sees the beauty and intelligence in every single one of us here at Archbishop Riordan.”

In her last curtain call, O’ Riordan has taken time to reflect on her full 22 years of teaching at Archbishop Riordan and wants her passion for her work to be remembered by students.

“I guess maybe the same thing that got me in trouble a couple times is my passion for what it is that I do. Sometimes, passion is a fierce energy that you can’t stop. I want–and I think that would go across the board between people I work with staff, faculty, administrators–to inspire students to see that I have a passion for what it is I do…I think I have a certain passion just for life itself.”

She added, “Even though I am going to go into retirement, I’m not going to stop teaching, I’m not going to stop living. I am just going to start a new chapter that’s going to be much more sustainable at my lake house.”  

This story was originally published on The Crusader on May 24, 2022.