First published in the July 2 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
A Burroughs High School alumnus and recent Cornell University graduate recently honored his former high school teacher when receiving an award from the institution.
Oliver Eccleston, who graduated from Burroughs in 2018 and received a bachelor’s degree in industrial labor relations from Cornell in May, was selected as a Cornell University Merrill Presidential Scholar. As part of the award, Eccleston named David Knatcal, a Burroughs teacher, as the high school teacher who had the greatest impact on his life to share the occasion as his special guest.
Eccleston met his most significant contributor at JBHS when he joined the Junior State of America.
“One of the wonderful things about [Eccleston] is you can talk to him about just about anything,” Knatcal said. “He has a level of intelligence and wisdom that once you’re talking to him, you forget how young he is, even when he was a high school student. As a high school student, I remember having a deep conversation with him about Catalonian and Basque Independence.”
Knatcal began his career in education at Burroughs in 2004, where he wasted no time chartering a Junior State of America chapter in 2006.
Since Knatcal started the chapter, under his leadership, the organization has achieved many accolades including four Southern California Junior State of America Chapter of the Year Awards, three National Civic Impact Awards and one Civic Learning Award of Merit from the California Department of Education.
“I first got involved in JSA as a sophomore in high school in 1983,” Knatcal said. “It’s been a part of my life for longer than it hasn’t. My two oldest friends were in JSA with me.”
Many of Knatcal’s students have gone on to various notable post-secondary institutions, including Harvard University, Stanford University, the Coast Guard Academy and Syracuse University.
Though Eccleston never had a class with Knatcal, he said his experience with the teacher — particularly as a debate club adviser — was particularly impactful.
“As a mentor, he was always free to talk about anything and everything — from geography and civics to taxation and good food — which pushed me to learn more,” Eccleston wrote in his tribute to Knatcal. “I’m proud to say that Mr. K is more than just a teacher — he’s a friend.”
Looking ahead, Knatcal said he plans on pivoting out of education to better focus on public policy.