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Retired Cass Tech drama teacher still inspires former students to reach for the stars

Posted at 4:32 PM, Feb 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-22 16:33:15-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — When you hear people talk about the stars of Detroit, you often hear names like the late Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross or The Temptations.

But there is a new crop of amazing talent bursting onto the big and small screens of Hollywood, and they're making magic both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.

A lot of their success is credited with one woman who is now a retired drama teacher from Cass Technical High School, and without any fanfare. She's been making dreams come true for Detroit kids for more than three decades.

After 39 years of making Detroit kids imagine the impossible on stage and behind the curtain no matter their upbringing, their challenges or their gifts, Marilyn McCormick taught them to come alive.

“I do believe that dreams come true, I do believe all things are possible, all we have to do is dream it and then pursue it,” McCormick said.

They're words of wisdom from Cass Tech's theater teacher extraordinaire.

“We lovingly call her MC. That's our MC, my high school drama teacher. This woman introduced me to the world of acting and the world of theater. I would not be here if it were not for her,” former Cass Tech student Chante Adams said.

Adans graduated from Cass Tech in 2012 and by 2017, she received the breakout artist award from the Sundance Film Festival in her very first feature film "Roxanne, Roxanne" where she plays a rising rap star.

“Chante sent that award to me. That shows you the kind of person she is,” McCormick said.

“I thought it was only fitting for it to live with MC and not me,” Adams said.

Adams is currently one of the stars in the film "A Journal for Jordan" with Denzel Washington directing.

WXYZ’s Carolyn Clifford asked, “How did you feel being directed by Denzel Washington?”

“Incredibly honored. "A Journal for Jordan" was the first film he's directed that he's not starring in,” Adams said.

The list of successful Detroit stars with MC's handprint is staggering. There are too many names to mention, but the list is endless.

“This year alone, probably 20 that are in television, film and Broadway in major roles,” McCormick said.

“I'm doing a play called "Skeleton Crew" on Broadway right now by our fellow Cass Tech alum Dominique Morrisseau. It’s about auto workers in Detroit during the 2008 recession,” Adams said.

Morrisseau also wrote "Ain't Too Proud," the Broadway musical about The Temptations.

“How is it that you've been successful, especially with kids in the city of Detroit?” Clifford asked.

“I don't know. I think we've just all been blessed,” McCormick said.

“She makes drama feel practical. So those dreams we have as children — we want to be stars, we want to act, we want to dance, we want to sing — she provided us with the path that those became real,” Adams said.

And for many, that path to stardom leads first to college.

“She sent me to Carnegie Melon's pre-college program when I was in 11th grade and that put me on the track to go from there,” Adams said.

That guidance was celebrated in 2016 at the Tony Awards where McCormick received the Excellence in Theatre award.

“You're showing them the way,” Clifford said.

"Yes, we are the sheep and she is our shepherd,” Adams said.

Although retired, McCormick's students stay connected, inviting her to shows and the like as she continues to sprinkle that magic dust of stardom on kids of Detroit. Whether through a positive word or the legacy that remains in the halls of Cass Tech, her name is always mentioned as the one making kids believe dreams are within reach.