“Kind, caring and supportive”: Composition Assistant Orion Hyson retires after 21 years at Whitman


Emily Weiss

The Composition Assistant has become a valuable resource to the thousands of students she’s worked with during her tenure at the Center. After dedicating 21 years to the Whitman community, Hyson retired at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

By Emily Weiss

Tucked away in her office in the back of Whitman’s Writing Center, Orion Hyson sits behind her desk, helping students with their English assignments. Hyson’s patience and kind smile never fail to calm the nerves of uneasy students who are unsure how to navigate an essay or report.

Since the Writing Center opened its doors in 2004, students have turned to Hyson with all of their English-related concerns, relying on her careful eye and wealth of experience to perfect their college essays and complete written assignments.

The Composition Assistant has become a valuable resource to the thousands of students she’s worked with during her tenure at the Center. After dedicating 21 years to the Whitman community, Hyson retired at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

Hyson started at Whitman in 2001 as a substitute teacher for English, social studies and art classes. In this role, she developed a strong sense of how Whitman functioned and began to identify the areas in which she felt like she could contribute to the community, she said.

One year later, English Resource teacher Suzy Doggett and English Composition Assistant Cathy Neff asked Hyson to apply for the full-time English Composition Assistant position, noting that many teachers were pleased with her work she did during her time as a substitute teacher for classes, Hyson said.

English Composition Assistants support educators in the classroom and help students develop their writing skills. As an English Major with a degree from Kenyon College, Hyson said it felt natural to apply.

In her new role, Hyson began working with students to improve their writing, with an emphasis on boosting their confidence and making them feel more comfortable as writers, she said. By helping them discover their own strengths and abilities, Hyson believes that she’s been able to provide students with the tools necessary to grow as writers. 

“I love that moment where I see a student’s eyes light up and they find the words,” Hyson said. “I see them suddenly making that quantum leap into a higher level of self-expression, of clarity and of intellectual curiosity.”

When English resource teacher Linda Leslie began teaching at Whitman in 2014, she immediately noticed Hyson’s extraordinary patience and kindness when working with students, she said.

“She has a way of focusing her attention 100 percent on that student’s needs and pausing long enough to hear students’ ideas all the way out,” Leslie said.

When helping students with their writing, Hyson makes it a priority to listen to each student to help them better articulate their thoughts, she said.

Since her freshman year, junior Lou Cardot has consistently turned to Hyson for help with her English assignments. The Composition Assistant works with students to help them become better writers instead of simply rewriting their work, Cardot said.

“The way that she analyzed my writing and helped me rewrite some parts while still keeping me and how I write…” Cardot said. “It was amazing.”

Hyson also supports English teachers by helping them grade assignments and offering additional assistance to any of their students who may be struggling in class. Although she doesn’t interact with students in the same setting that classroom teachers do, Hyson’s appreciation and patience with each student that walks into the writing center reminds other teachers to appreciate their interactions with students throughout the school year, English teacher Elizabeth Keating said.

One of Hyson’s favorite memories from her teaching career at Whitman was assisting with organizing Whitman’s annual Shakespeare Festival, a “joyous, creative, community-building” event that showcased interactive displays of Elizabethan art, music, science and drama performances as well as a banquet, she said. The school-wide event took place during the school day until 2010. This tradition had grown larger in scale throughout the years before she stepped into the role of director, as nearly every department in the school became involved in some way, she said. Though Whitman doesn’t hold the event anymore, Hyson said that she enjoyed her role in organizing it.

Hyson was instrumental in recruiting and training parent volunteers to assist students in the Writing Center, Leslie said. Parent volunteers enable the center to function, and at the beginning of every school year, Hyson would invite both new and returning parents to the Writing Center for an orientation before scheduling them for volunteer weekly, bi-monthly or monthly volunteer slots, Hyson said.

“I have always been available to help students improve their writing skills,” she said, “But the volunteers also bring a fascinating array of perspectives and experiences to help students grow as writers and thinkers.”

After 21 years of helping students find and articulate their own voices through writing, students and staff will miss the Composition Assistant’s kindness, patience and support in the Writing Center. While the English department won’t be the same without her, they appreciate her unwavering commitment to the Whitman students and community, Keating said.

In retirement, Hyson plans to pursue painting, tutoring and gardening. She has many friends who are already in retirement and looks forward to spending time with them, she said. She is also passionate about volunteering and hopes to spend more time exploring ways to help others, Hyson said. 

“I’m 66,” Hyson said. “So I think it’s just time to let someone younger step into the river and bring their gifts and energy and enthusiasm to Whitman and the English Department.”