Auto designer gives back to the teacher who inspired him

May 15, 2014 12:00 AM

When a student has a truly special teacher, they'll often go above and beyond to say "thanks." This educator might have been someone who helped them overcome learning challenges, or one who simply encouraged and inspired them in a new way. While some opt to simply offer an apple or a card to express their gratitude, others will go for much grander gestures. One example of this is a student who, despite some major difficulties, managed to overcome odds and enjoy an immensely successful career in the auto industry.

A troubled past
According to Autoblog, Michael Lehti wasn't academically strong, and also came from a broken home. While he may not have been confident about much, the one thing he knew he was capable of was car design. His science teacher, Karlene Berry, saw this talent in him as well. Little did they both know that Lehti would go on to help design the the Porsche RUF CTR3 and the Aston Martin One-77, the fourth most expensive automobile in existence at just under $2 million, as well as other costly sports cars that demand a lot of vehicle maintenance. Nor would they have foreseen that Lehti would win a number of honors, awards and U.S. patents for his work.

The Windsor Star explained that Lehti was made fun of a lot in school. Despite suffering some significant bullying, though, he still managed to become a designer for some of the highest quality and most covetable luxury automobiles. He insists this wouldn't have been possible without the mentorship and encouragement of Mrs. Berry.

"She believed in me before I believed in myself," Lehti said, as quoted by the news outlet. "Over the years, I've talked so often to people about how influential she has been in my life. She was the best and most inspirational teacher I ever had. I don't know what would've happened in my life if she hadn't come into it."

Giving back
In fact, Lehti flunked the majority of his subjects in 8th grade. Yet Mrs. Berry didn't give up on Lehti. He noted that as she was easy to approach, he felt he could comfortably seek out her advice, almost as if she were a friend. He also admitted that her class was one of the only things he looked forward to.

When he heard the news that his old school, which had been running for 100 years, was shutting down in June, Lehti decided it was time to thank his teacher for the positive impact she had on him. So he got in touch with her several weeks before the recent open house. Lehti didn't just call Mrs. Berry to thank her, he also had a few presents to show his appreciation. He presented her with a bouquet of flowers and even a card with $500 slipped inside. More awe-inspiring, though, is the framed collage he created using sketches and photos from his Aston Martin project, including a personalized note about the impact she has had on his life. Mrs. Berry admitted that she was taken aback by the gesture, particularly as nearly 35 years had passed since she had Lehti in her classroom.

Interestingly, The Windsor Star noted that Lehti never graduated high school, and wasn't able to finish the Mechanical Engineering Technology program at St. Clair College, either. Still, he continued to etch car designs from the time he was a kid, and he stressed that Mrs. Berry's belief in him was a key reason for that.

"I never forgot what she said," said Lehti, according to The Windsor Star. "I never gave up on my dream even when other people told me to give up. I think the message from my experience is don't have preconceptions about your future based on your current situation."

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