For A Forgotten Professor: Thank You!
You probably don’t remember me. It was a long, long time ago since you’ve seen me and I am sure you have had many students come and go since I last sat in your class. To be completely honest, the images are a bit fuzzy for me as well.
I was young — just out of high school, and in that place of not really knowing who I was or who I would become.
The days of trying to find identity within familiar hallways and faces were left behind, and everything now was new and odd and I was learning how to break off the pieces that had been worn down and shaped over the years.
I remember sitting in class in that tiny desk with barely enough room for my books and my freshly bought brown leather college backpack on the floor, while staring down at my notes and trying not to make eye contact.
I liked this class, though. It was English 151 and more specifically it was focused on writing.
I loved to write.
From as early as I could form words and sentences, I wrote. I wrote stories and poems, wishes and prayers. I wrote about the things I dreamed about and the things that woke me from sleep.
It felt so right to write — like breathing or feeling surfaces with my fingertips. And even though I sat in your class looking like every other freshman girl with a newly bought backpack resting on the floor, inside I was brimming with anticipation to write.
I took my first assignment and penned an essay about love.
I can’t remember if this was a topic that had been assigned or if it was one I had chosen, but that is what I did. Reading it now, I smile. My young mind had this ideal of love that was clean and untouched — absolute and unscarred.
Those words, written in blue bubbly script, had been thought through very carefully. I remember feeling wise at the time, older than my years and content with the words that had poured out my hands — words that were naive and wistful, yet spoken from such a young heart.
Imagine my surprise when in class a week later you pulled out a paper from the stack on your desk and told the class you wanted to read something.
To be completely truthful, I don’t remember your exact words now because I only half-listened in class as most of us college freshman did then. But what I do remember is hearing my words read back to me and feeling my face grow hot and red.
I remember sinking down into my seat and staring hard at the gold button on my newly bought brown leather backpack. I remember looking out of the side of my eyes under my hair that had draped down over my face to see if anyone knew those words were mine.
I silently willed, Professor, for you to not say my name or to place that paper on my desk after reading it.
Thankfully, you didn’t do either, but rather slipped it back into the stack of all the other stapled loose-leaf papers, and I felt my face return to a somewhat normal temperature. Later you passed them back to us and I nonchalantly flipped through it.
It was then that I saw the comment written in red at the top.
You told me my writing made your job worth all the hassles. You suggested I submit an article to the college paper or at the very least, write more.
Something changed in me just a little that day, Professor. I felt a tiny spark light in my soul.
It’s kind of an indescribable feeling, but I think maybe you get it. You know, the feeling you have after a long day of busyness and doing, and you walk into the familiar walls and scents of home. The contentment you get when you finish off the last bite of a perfectly satisfying meal.
The pure instinctual understanding of when you look into the eyes of a friend that knows what you are thinking or feeling inside without saying a word.
There was a time then in my life that followed of writing privately in journals and then a period of not writing anything. There were new stories happening and unfolding right under my feet as I walked — sometimes so unbelievable that they took my breath away.
My heart now was no longer perfect and unmarked, but rather older and wiser, yet steadily beating with stories now inscribed on its walls.
And all along the words were there somewhere, yet bottled up and waiting, until I started writing again.
My pen found me again, Professor.
Maybe I found it or we found each other, but I’m writing again, and this time I’m sharing it with the world (or at least part of the world). I wanted you to know this, but the truth is that I can’t remember your name. So without a name or address, I’m sitting down to write this letter.
I’m writing it not only to you, but to all of the professors that say the things that light a tiny spark in the students that sit in desks without making eye contact and keep their newly bought backpacks on the floor.
I write this to the teachers that put messages in red ink at the top of school papers, or in the margins or even at the very back on the last page.
I write this for the people who stand in front of a classroom day after day or sometimes night after night and wonder if their job is simply nothing but a hassle, but sometimes choose a paper from the stack to read in class and carefully slide it back without another word, so as not to make that student feel being put on the spot.
This is for you, Professor. Thank you. Your words mattered and I have been changed.
A former college freshman (and now a writer)