Recently I sat down to write a terribly difficult letter that did not bring the outcome I had hoped for. Perhaps my reaction to this has been best reflected in the earlier quotation from President Benjamin Harrison and my earlier preoccupation with Graham Greene’s statement regarding the mercy of God. This summer has been a test of my personal strength and conviction in many ways, a test I am thankful for in that it has reminded me of how I arrived where I am.
A former high school teacher of mine was recently diagnosed with cancer. The diagnosis in a way has forced me to recognize something that has been looming over my head since the late hours of May 23rd. I am where I am today because of teachers who have supported me, guided me, and encouraged me.
Why May 23rd? May 23rd Bert Marley lost the primary election for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Prior to the primary I came out in strong support of Bert as his former student and as a fellow Democrat. What I did not say publicly, but know, as does Bert, is that he is the reason I did not drop out of high school. For reasons that seem absurd now, boredom included, I was dead-set on dropping out of high school. Had I not been placed in Bert’s classroom time after time, I wonder where I would be today. The day he introduced me from the gallery of the Senate chamber in Boise was a day I will never forget. He introduced me as a former student and only one other time had I been as proud to be his former student—the November day I stood on the lawn of the capitol building when he announced his candidacy for State Superintendent.
The teacher who was recently diagnosed with cancer came just after Bert in my life. I left Bert's classroom, still a student and quite happy to be a student, and found a U.S. History teacher that would change my life forever. The lessons she taught me in the classroom were hardly comparable to the lessons she taught me outside of the classroom. She was my support in a horrible health crisis and she was my salvation when the bottom of my world fell out. I owe this woman so much that I cannot possibly give her, but I have realized recently that the greatest gift I can give her is my own success because she has so steadily been a part of shaping it.
When I ended up at ISU, I was discouraged, disinterested, and felt in so many ways defeated. Not right away, but eventually, I would find a class and a professor that would save me intellectually and emotionally—remarkably, an English class. This summer that former English professor of mine takes new steps in her career and I am so happy for her, but part of me wishes daily she were still at ISU. Her influence on me is immeasurable and her absence is evident.
Throughout my life I have always found school and learning to be an escape. Throwing myself into whatever the task may be can distract me from whatever personal obstacles I may be attempting to overcome. Never has this been truer than this summer. I registered for summer classes in effort to deter boredom, not knowing what this summer would turn in to. Through my work on the state historical journal I have had a much needed and appreciated distraction. Also, I have had the opportunity to work with someone who has had tremendous patience with me, has encouraged me continuously, and who has reminded me that even on the toughest days when what we want seems so far out of reach, there is solace in history—something I had forgotten. The only logical reason I can find that explains why this summer has not defeated me is this internship and this professor.
These teachers never had to sit me down and tell me that I have potential. Bert Marley never asked me to stay in school; he challenged me in the classroom. It has never been a simple sentence or gesture from any of these teachers, but a certain amount of patience, encouragement, and support that has enabled me to continue my education. They in a sense were saying to me what Adlai Stevenson once said at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: “The future stretches ahead, untrodden and uncharted—but ours to take and to master. That future is mostly yours; the roads yours to choose.”
To these four teachers I owe everything. Last week I picked beans in my former high school history teacher’s garden, a small payment for all she has done for me. Before the primary election I did everything I could for Bert’s campaign, it was no where near enough, but the best I could do. I will continue to give back in every way I can to the teachers, professors, mentors, and friends who have lead me here.