I'm not sure how we got to it in all the talk of old classmates, family and what-have-you-been-up-to conversation when my Kansas school pals and I got together on our trip recently but there was a connection somehow. My friend Connie was telling us about her V.I.P project, a series of letters to to the Very Important People in her life. From grandparents to grandchildren, teachers to friends, she was writing to people who played a part in making her who she was. Of course, we all wanted to see our letters as we were sure we'd be receiving one but she laughed and said she'd mostly been writing to dead people so far...they were easier.
It was an interesting concept...putting into words the things you wished you'd said or didn't say often enough, explaining what had gone unexplained through the years and maybe even asking questions which could never be answered. And when I remarked It had to be therapeutic too, Connie agreed. She said she wasn't sure if or when anyone would read them but it was a wonderful exercise for her and she was loving most of the memories she was re-living in the process. Of course, the scrapbooker in me couldn't help but think what a terrific mini-album or photobook those letters would make, especially when illustrated with some old photos.
Fast-forward a couple of weeks and the subject of letter-writing came up again. This time I was sitting in Kayla's graduation. As the Chairman of the School Board prepared to hand out dipolmas, he reminded the graduates that they had reached this point thanks to not only their hard work but that of the teachers they'd had along the way. Then he challenged them to write a note to their favorite teacher, letting him/her know he/she had made a difference. It was funny that he followed that with a warning: No email, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram but in writing so the teacher could physically hold this "thank you" and have it as a permanent reminder of the role he/she had played in a student's life. He knew his audience well.
Two events, unrelated yet with the same sentiment behind them. Clearly the Universe was speaking to me and when that happens, I try to listen.
So I've written my letter (you can read here at the end if you're interested) and I'm passing the challenge on to you. I chose a teacher in part because I have family and friends who are teachers and I can imagine how much they would appreciate being told they were influential in a student's life but you can choose anyone you like. Make a difference for someone who made a difference to you, and if your experience is anything like mine, you'll find just doing that makes another difference in your life.
Dear Dr. Anderson,
You probably don't remember me but then it's been almost thirty years since I graduated from UWF. I was the older, quiet student who always sat on the second row in almost every evening class you were teaching in the early 1980's. The one focused on graduating from college before her oldest child graduated from high school. Before she celebrated her twentieth high school reunion. Wife, mother, employee, student...I wore a lot of hats in those days.
But I remember you. You're the teacher who came to my mind as I sat in the Civic Center last week watching my granddaughter graduate from high school. While that may seem like a strange time and place for me to be thinking about you, there is a very meaningful connection between you and those events.
Just before passing out diplomas to the members of the Class of 2013, the Chairman of the School Board offered a few remarks to the about-to-be graduates. He reminded them that they didn't get to that point without the efforts of inspiring teachers and dedicated mentors, and then he issued a challenge. Write a letter, he said, to a teacher who influenced you and let them know that his/her efforts were meaningful in your life. It clearly sounded like proposal even the adults in attendance should accept so I have.
Working in a law office both before and after being a student in your classes would be an easy explanation of why I chose you as my most influential teacher. We did, after all, cover a lot of legal principles and ground-breaking court cases every semester. I learned what those landmark cases stood for and how to analyze them, not only for what the court said (or sometimes didn't say) but also in relation to cases that came before and after them. I was fortunate enough to work for an attorney who encouraged me to draft appellate briefs and opinion letters to corporate clients on litigation in which they were involved so the skills you taught me had very practical applications.
There was more to it than that, however. That ability to read, analyze, dissect and synthesize went far beyond law books and court cases; it was a skill I could apply to so many other areas of life in the years that followed. This was especially true when I opened my own business, one totally unrelated to law. Every small business owner is forced to deal with an array of issues and facing mine was that much easier with the tools you gave me. Those same skills still serve me on a personal level today and I suspect they always will.
Your classes were the hardest of any I took throughout my entire scholastic career but every semester I'd enroll in another one with your name behind it. I learned so much...about the subject matter and about myself and my ability to respond to a challenge, and for that I will always be grateful.
Teachers don't hear "thank you" near enough. We students walk out the door when the semester ends and you're left wondering if your message got through. If you did enough. If you made a difference. I'm writing today to say that you definitely did...for me and, I suspect, for a whole lot of others too. Even though it's thirty years late, let this letter be my way of saying "thank you" for being the teacher that you were.