Moving Forward, One Student at a Time

We are back home in LA and today has been a student day for me. I worked all morning with one of my longstanding students, Elijah, who is now applying to law school. He and I go back to his high school days when I helped him with his English term papers. Since then, he’s gone off to college, graduated, worked a couple of years and is now back with me.

Today, we were in our final edit of his law school personal statement and finally got it right after a slow and frustrating revision of one lone paragraph. When we finally got it just the way we wanted and then made corresponding minor adjustments throughout the paper, Elijah read the essay one last time for me. I started tearing up in the middle and let out a good long sob there at the end. It’s true, the essay is exceptional (I am a decent judge even if I had my hand in helping with it), but that sob may have also been an expression of my love/pride/connection with this boy who is now a young man. He will go to law school with the help of this fine essay and then he’ll go on to build a life for himself. We will have fewer and fewer occasions to work together, which makes me a bit sad, but I will always carry this sweet relationship with me.

Elijah, like so many before him, represents the best of my time with students. We have worked long hours together, dissolved into laughing fits together and even cried together. One of our most poignant moments was when I helped him compose the speech he was to deliver in his role as the captain of his high school soccer team after the untimely death of his beloved assistant coach. We cried that day indeed. And we both shed a tear or two again today in sheer relief that this piece we’ve crafted with such care has evolved from a jumble of disjointed paragraphs to a living, breathing statement of how Elijah has dealt with past difficulties and how those challenges inform his life today. Hallelujah.

I understand how wonderful it is that I have had the opportunity to share in the lives of a series of teenagers over the years. Many of these teens are now full-fledge adults, finished with college and/or graduate school and out in the world working. That certainly is an indicator of my longevity in this odd little niche I stumbled upon almost twenty years ago. I am also exceptionally fortunate because some of these “kids” have become real friends rather than simply students. We have stayed in touch over the years and rendezvous for catch-up visits when we can. That is when I understand that my job has been more than helping with the grammar or structure or the content of a paper. Instead, that paper has been the vehicle by which that student and I could push beyond the conventional barriers that would normally divide us and instead come together as two human beings with shared thoughts, feelings and experiences.

I know for certain that Elijah will soon step into a new phase of his life. I wish him well and will keep him close to my heart. Here’s to the goodness of human connection.

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