As I mourn the loss of my second graders’ year (no field day, walking field trips, last hugs), I can’t help but think of how much harder the loss would be if my son were an 8th grader, senior in high school or in college. Graduation weekend at Centre is such a lovely time. Watching the families take in the place where their child became an adult, the grandparents beaming, the seniors rolling their eyes; it is just such a pleasant ritual of ends and new beginnings.
While for faculty the graduation ceremony itself can come to feel repetitive, the hours afterwards are a busy hum of energy and emotion. Students come and say their farewells to faculty (on the lawn if it is nice) and introduce us to their parents. The brief interactions with their families and that chance to tell a parent that you know their child is a great human are some of the most rewarding parts of my job.
It breaks my heart that I won’t get to do that this year. It breaks my heart to think that I won’t get to look a mom in the eye and say, “I have loved getting to know your son” and the chance to tell a grandma that her granddaughter thought about her in my history class constantly.
So, I decided to write an anonymized letter for the class of 2020 and their parents. Some of my students might see themselves in here—if you do, please tell your parents how sorry I am that I didn’t get to tell them myself.
Watching your student grow from a kid to an adult is a joy and a privilege. They did a great job. I know you were worried back when they thought they might major in physics. They muddled through that semester and came out on the other side a lot wiser. Every time someone questions me about whether college is necessary, I think of your student because once they found their community and their skills they really blossomed.
Their writing skills weren’t great in those first years, but they were persistent and it really paid off. They can argue their way out of a box now in person and on paper. And they will use that skill well in law school.
My students really are the kindest bunch of college kids out there and they ask me how I’m doing and if they are bothering me all the time. Your student is one of those and they are dependable, conscientious, and thoughtful. Even as a first year that kid wasn’t afraid to take care of others. Their academic ability is strong—and has been throughout their career. I admit, though, that it is their spirit that I am most impressed with.
I never know what kind of questions students will ask when they come to my office door. I’ve had students from this year’s class ask me very serious questions about life and love, to settle arguments about the worst presidents, to tell them ghost stories (wrong American history professor, y’all), and whether I thought that serial killers would make a good research paper topic (Don’t worry there are more than one of you.) Their intellectual curiosity is astonishing. Here are people who will find new and exciting ways to make our world work better, kinder, and with more humanity.
I’ve watched your student perform brilliantly on the field, court, and in the pool. Their dedication to athletics is admirable and I love watching college sports. Their ability to balance their athletic achievements and their academic work—impressive. What I love most is that the older they get the more they understand that the balance isn’t just a temporary annoyance—it is about preparing for a life of juggling wants and needs. They need to be competitive and physically fit and they also want to be prepared academically and they need to succeed. Learning that balance is hard and they have mastered it.
Some students take classes with me semester after semester and stop by my office for a chat weekly. Others take only one course with me but leave a huge impression on my heart. Your son was one of those. He would raise his hand and just make the best darn comment. It was clear he had done the reading and had thought hard about what the assignment said. It is always nice to have a student in class you can count on to say something substantial and your kid always did that.
Your students might still be goofy and have no clue how to do basic adult things—this year’s senior class has asked me about how to do laundry, cook eggs, and mail things. But they will learn. I’ve seen them mature and learn to know themselves; to recognize their tendency to procrastinate and set deadlines for themselves, to sense that their anxiety is getting in the way of their life, to make a plan and get it done. They talk with a new self-confidence and assuredness that makes me smile as they lay out their plans (or lack thereof) and think about their future.
Thank you for sharing your student with me over the years. I think about you when my 2nd grader refuses to tell me the details of his day—how much harder will it be when he doesn’t eat dinner at my kitchen table? When I won’t know his friends? I think about you when your student tells me stories about their lives.
I know this wasn’t the way it was supposed to end. We should be wiping sweat and tears from our face while eating cookies and taking pictures. Hug your kid for me since I don’t get to do that this year. Tell them you are proud of them and that I am too.