Students speak – Paroles d’étudiants

Sudents Speak: Lives Transformed by Teachers –
Paroles d’étudiants: Des vies transformées par des enseignants

The Words of the Students – Part E

I want to write a good, honest letter for Dr. X. More than that, I want to keep finding and following honest inspiration. That isn’t always easy, but thinking of him reminds me it is possible. And crucial.

Professor X taught me introductory biology when I was sixteen years old. I was 700 km from home, and impressively ignorant. He said we should ask questions, so I asked about how snakes follow chemical gradients. He took me to a computer, and suggested I email the author of a paper on the subject. The scientist-author wrote several pages in response to my question. That day, I learned real people do science, and that I could speak to those people. The next day, I got an email account. Since, I’ve forgotten many (most?) details of my undergraduate education, but that lesson remains vivid and clear.

Throughout my degree, and past it, I turned to Dr. X for insight and help. He gave time, attention, and examples of how to live and think well. I’m grateful.

~ Former student

I was fortunate and enriched by all and in particular Professor X. I credit my writing career to him. English is my second language, one I never mastered in high school. I suffered the consequences of this weakness in university.

Through Professor X’s encouragement and guidance I learned to investigate, research, and comprehend not only the ability to write but to read critically. His classes were not only stimulating and entertaining, they were respectful, and I felt more like a human being than a mere student.

I value these lifelong and real lessons. I attempt to emulate this fine man’s examples. He took the time to show rather than tell us how to read and write literature. I am proud to make this testament to his success. As a Cree woman whose mainstream interaction was limited, I came a long way because of educators like him.

~ Poet, Counselor

During my undergraduate experience, I had the good luck to be taught by a chemistry professor of exceptional quality – Dr. X. I call it luck because she is an excellent scholar and an extraordinary person, and would probably soar beyond the reach of mere undergraduates but for her affection for teaching. Her lectures were some of the best I attended and I found myself completely captivated by her enthusiasm. Dr. X recognized my passion for science and personally ensured that I got the opportunity to explore my interests and grow as a researcher. She did her job with professionalism, care and an open heart – her door was always open for any of us who sought help or advice, or wished to gain more knowledge.

~ Fourth-year student

Most of my college teachers would bring to class a basket full of fruit, freshly picked from the tree of knowledge, to share with those of us willing to listen. Professor X instead brought to class a basket containing seeds, which he then passionately began to distribute to those of us wanting to learn how to grow and distribute, helping us cultivate our own gardens of wisdom. I still harvest fruit from the tree he helped me plant thirty-five years ago, and it tastes as sweet today as it did back then.

~ Professor

I practically owe the man a limb, or my first-born, or perhaps a limb from my first-born. This statement is one small way I can attempt to return the many favours he has granted me.

After hopeless attempts to find the words to honour

Professor X, I am reminded of a quote he once used to comfort me in the grim hours after an essay deadline had lapsed. Robert Frost, he said, spoke of writing as something that is “never finished, [only] abandoned in despair.” As I continued to pore over my unfinished paper, subsisting on a diet of fingernail fragments and cold coffee, his encouraging emails brought me great relief.

I find myself needing Frost’s reassurance now, as I struggle with every sinew of my self to justly represent his singular insight and compassion. To write a “letter of recommendation,” as I suppose this is, is to tread some very fine lines between jargon, cliché, and sentimentality— possibly the Holy Trinity of bad taste in Professor X’s eyes. I must be very careful in my approach. Were he dead, he might roll in his grave. Thankfully for all, he is not, but he would surely shift uncomfortably in his La-Z-Boy.

Instead, I choose to share with you the sleepless frustration of my plight to give Dr. X, my most formidable and unrivaled influence, the recognition he deserves. After sleeping next to my thesaurus, even rifling through the bombastic language of history’s greatest orators hoping for the “right words” to pelt this page like shrapnel, I am giving up. I am abandoning this letter in despair.

~ Former student