Lazar leaves lasting legacy


Emma Kim

Chemistry teacher Jeff Lazar is retiring this year after teaching at for WHHS 36 years. “I just hope he knows how much everyone’s going to miss him, because he is kind of like the glue that holds the science department together,” Logan Symson, ‘24, said.

Despite teaching chemistry for over 35 years, Jeff Lazar never wanted to be a teacher. Inspired by his high school English teacher, Lazar entered Washington University as an English major, hoping to become a great novelist.

“But then I got tired of writing papers,” Lazar said.

That’s when he decided to double major in biology and chemistry. Lazar met his wife in his organic chemistry class, but found himself struggling to pin down a career interest.

“I actually did research in a biochemistry lab for two years and hated every minute of it,” Lazar said.

On a whim, he accepted his first teaching job after graduating college.

“A friend of mine said, ‘Hey, why don’t you try this? You might like it,’ and I did. I loved it,” Lazar said.

His love for teaching has only grown over the last 45 years, 36 of which were at WHHS. After making a lasting impact on the students he taught, the colleagues he worked with, and the science department over the last three decades, Lazar recently announced his retirement.

“On the very first day of chemistry he lit his desk on fire, and I knew it was going to be a great year,” Laurie Cotton said. Cotton is currently a precalculus teacher who had Lazar as her 10th-grade chemistry teacher.

While students may not remember intermolecular forces and stoichiometry, they will never forget Lazar’s kind heart and self-proclaimed “sarcastic and stupid” sense of humor.

“It usually takes him a while to get through the lectures because he’s cracking jokes and doing random experiments to keep us entertained,” former student Neil Sampath, SENIOR, said. “I feel like he was someone that you could come to with anything, not just school related… he is an awesome person to talk to.”

When Lazar first came to WHHS, he taught physical science, but since 1998, he has taught Chemistry AA and AP Chemistry.
“He’s able to take a subject that’s infamous[ly difficult] at Walnut and turn it into something that people love,” Logan Symson, ‘24, said.

One wall of Jeff Lazar’s classroom is dedicated to chemistry decorations, including handmade signs written by Lazar and his students. While these posters are regarded as light-hearted jokes, they also remind students of classroom rules. (Emma Kim)

Some of Lazar’s most rewarding memories from his teaching career come from hearing about how he helped former students advance their careers. “I really like it when students contact me and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be a doctor now,’ or ‘I’m going to be a pharmacist,’” Lazar said.
Along with inspiring students, Lazar inspired his son Adam Lazar to follow his example and become an American Government teacher.

“The real truth is growing up I just wanted to be like my father, and it happened to be that my father was a teacher, and so that’s what I wanted to be,” Adam Lazar said.

Adam Lazar considers himself lucky to have been surrounded by WHHS’ community from a young age because of his father’s influence.

“I bleed blue and gold, and have since I was a very, very young child. From taking [me] to football games, basketball games, science fairs, and things of that nature, he really ingrained Walnut Hills into me, so I’m very thankful for that,” Adam Lazar said.

He learned many teaching methods by observing his father and imitating what has worked for him.

“It’s been a tremendous experience, and I consider myself to be immensely lucky and fortunate to be able to see him every day, talk to him every day, and ask him questions every day,” Adam Lazar said.

Lazar involved himself in the school community as the sponsor for the class of ‘92 and ‘00, coach for the quiz team, and founding adviser of the community action team. He was also active in several chemistry teacher groups and over 20 years ago, received an award from the American Chemical Society—one he still has displayed in his home.

“Walnut always pushes me to be better. I go home at night and sometimes I think about questions that students have asked that I either didn’t answer as well as I should have or didn’t know the answers to, and so Walnut has always pushed me in that direction,” Lazar said. “I’m a little fearful about retiring because teaching has been such a big part of my life.”