Making Him Proud: A Letter From a Student

It's the second day of my English composition class at community college. The assignment for the first ten minutes is for students to write a letter of introduction to me.

They freak-out just a wee bit.

A letter? To you? Right now?

Some start writing almost immediately; some fret and chew their pens a bit. Almost all of them check the clock to see how long this agony? / delight? will last.

I ask standard questions to prompt them: name, major, why this school, where they grew up, what they like to do for fun (specifying I only want the PG 13 stuff), what they want to do with their lives, what they like to read, favorite song lyrics and so on.

Since we are in a military town, I ask them to let me know, if they want to, if they have a loved one in harm’s way. I also give the caveat that they don’t need to tell me what they wouldn’t tell their priest, pastor, or psychiatrist.

They chuckle and relax a bit.

Some of them write slowly, carefully, with elegant handwriting. Some scribble and their words are borderline legible, even for an old pro at decoding handwriting.  Some noisily tap the letter out on a laptop, driving their eye-rolling tablemates (who are trying to concentrate) up the wall.

Some write half a page, some a page and a half. Some stop writing when I give the” times up;” some keep writing surreptitiously until I hold out my hand for the paper.

Some write lightheartedly, and I can hear their youthful, bubbly voices in my head as I read the letters later.

Some write sincerely, but awkwardly. An occasional student guiltily confesses to writing poetry, some to hatred of reading any genre (eek—but you’re a college student-- reading is not optional! I later write in the margin).

After the ten minutes are up, I ask who will be the first brave person to share what she wrote.

Today it was a smiling, brown-haired woman in the back row, in capris and a t-shirt. I’m terrible at guessing ages, but I’d say she was no more than thirty. Her name is Calinda*.

“My wonderful husband always prodded me to go back to school,” she reads.

“Actually, he nagged.” The class giggles.

“But then he passed away a couple of months ago. I’m here in school to make him proud,” she continues, and she chokes on sudden, small sobs.

The class lets out a slow, sympathetic sigh.

We are in a military town where death is no stranger.

The young girl next to Calinda is Sharon*. Sharon, whose husband is a Marine, hugs Calinda in spontaneous support.  I run to the back row and hug Calinda too. What else can I do?

Later in my office, when I read Calinda’s full letter, she notes her favorite song lyrics.

“If heaven wasn’t so far away, I’d pick up the kids and come for a day,” by singer Justin Moore.

Now you can better understand what I mean when I say my students are uniquely motivated. 

A new semester begins:  second day of class.


*names are always changed to protect student privacy

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