Alumni Profile

Alumni Pandemic Perspectives
Alumni Pandemic Perspectives

Around the world, COVID-19 has impacted nearly every aspect of daily life, including how and where we work. Many SSA alumni work on the front lines in hospitals and research labs, while others have seen COVID-19 drastically transform their jobs and organizations. Read about SSA alumni and how they continue to make a difference during a global pandemic. Read more.

Mark Lhormer ’78: The Confidence to Pursue a True Passion

More than 2,500 miles sit between Marc Lhormer ’78’s current home in Sonoma, California, and Shady Side Academy, but his connections to his alma mater still run deep. “Some of my closest friends are my Junior School friends,” Lhormer says.

Winter 2023-24 Shady Side Academy Magazine Cover

The Winter 2023-24 Issue of Shady Side Academy Magazine is online. Read it now.

Lhormer, an SSA lifer, grew up on Morewood Avenue in Shadyside, near the land that housed the original 1880’s SSA schoolhouse. At Shady Side, Lhormer recalls excelling in his math and science classes. He took that prowess to Yale, where he earned a degree in Economics, and later to Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Lhormer leaned into his skills with facts and numbers as he pursued business-related work after graduation. Still, his fondest classroom memories took on a more creative bent. “I loved the English and literature classes that I took at Shady Side,” Lhormer says. He fondly recalls a creative writing class led by the legendary Richard F. Gregory, who taught in the English department from 1953 to 1989. “I couldn’t wait for each next assignment,” Lhormer says.

After many years in business-related jobs that felt “uninspired” to Lhormer, the creative seeds planted at Shady Side were finally nurtured when Lhormer and his wife Brenda entered the film industry. “When we first moved to Sonoma over 20 years ago, we took the reins of a struggling Sonoma Valley film festival and turned it into a successful regional showcase of independent films paired with wonderful local food and wine,” Lhormer says.

As the festival runners, Lhormer and his wife got the itch to get more involved in the industry. “One day, a producer friend in L.A. sent me an email with an attachment and a note that said, ‘Stop talking about it. Make the movie.’ The attachment was the screenplay for ‘Bottle Shock.’”

In 2008, “Bottle Shock” was released, telling the story of California wineries beating the French at the infamous 1976 Paris wine tasting competition. “It was a fantastic first experience in producing a film,” Lhormer says.

While Lhormer and his wife went on to co-found and direct the Napa Valley Film Festival from 2010 to 2018, they continued to pursue their dream of working in film. In 2008, Lhormer’s classmate, Carl Kurlander ’78 (who famously wrote “St. Elmo’s Fire”), a teaching professor at the University of Pittsburgh in the Film & Media Studies department, encouraged Lhormer to consider turning the book “Dear Zoe” into a film.

After stepping up as screenwriter and producer, Lhormer found himself back in Pittsburgh in 2019 to shoot “Dear Zoe,” which tells the story of Pittsburgh-based Tess, played by Sadie Sink, as she tries to cope with the loss of her younger sister. “It’s a beautiful story, and it meant a lot to me,” Lhormer says, recalling his own experience with family tragedy and healing following the death of his mother in a plane crash.

Lhormer came full circle during a day of filming at the Junior School, including a brief scene in his own kindergarten classroom. When the film premiered at the August Wilson Center in November 2022, several SSA alumni attended to support Lhormer.

As Lhormer looks ahead, he’s excited to continue his creative pursuits in the film industry. He recently wrote a screenplay that will bring him back to the wine world, this time through a fictional thriller involving forgery and fraud.

Recalling the cherished creative classes he took at SSA that focused on writing, and even one that required him to film short movies, Lhormer says, “It’s kind of neat to think of those little seeds that were planted back then.”

Ultimately, Lhormer believes his entire Shady Side education prepared him for the winding journey that’s led him to his passionate new career. He explains, “At Shady Side, you learn to be very committed, and not afraid of hard work.”

“Bottle Shock” and “Dear Zoe” are both available to watch on Prime Video and Apple TV, as well as other streaming platforms.