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In 1994, I was a graduate student at Eastern Michigan University. I was only 23 years old, and so very excited to be on my way to a Master’s Degree. 

 

time_flying

 My main role as the Honors’ Program grad assistant was to publish the monthly newsletter and set up the annual Honors’ Program symposium. But, I also got to teach a few college courses on my own. One of the courses I taught was CTA 101 – Public Speaking. Everyone’s favorite course :).  I loved it. I loved the students, and I loved the environment that created community, encouraged discussion, and enabled the sharing of knowledge.

When I graduated, my wonderful professor, Dr. Gary Evans, asked the graduating class if any of us felt like a fraud. As if this should have been harder. As if we should somehow feel differently because we now had our Master’s Degree. I slowly raised my hand and was happy to see that I was far from alone. Most everyone in that classroom raised their hand. He went on to explain the importance of giving ourselves credit for completing the courses, doing the homework, and defending our thesis. He talked about how common it is to see ourselves as frauds – as if someone is going to find out that we aren’t as good as we pretend to be. We’re not as smart as our resume sounds, and we’re certainly not as “together” as we may appear.

He made it ok to feel what I was already feeling. He made it ok to be less than perfect. And for that, I will always appreciate him.

But one thing he didn’t’ do was remind us of the importance of the teacher/student bond. To let us know that, years later, we may run into one of our students, and we may not be able to remember that specific student right away, but they will remember us. When this happens, smile warmly and say “Of course I remember you! How have you been?” He did not mention this that day when we graduated and went off into the world.

And thus, years later, as luck would have it, I found myself in a restaurant with a friend. One of the staff came up to me and asked if I was Denise who used to teach Public Speaking at Eastern.

“Yes,” I replied.

She so sweetly went on to say many kind things about the class and about me. Then she asked if I remembered her.

I can’t explain what I was thinking – although, in my defense, I was at the restaurant with a female friend whom I was about to tell I was gay and ask her out, and I was about to do that for the first time in my life. I had a lot on my mind.

But that’s no excuse.

I looked at this former student and replied honestly, “No, I’m sorry, I don’t remember you.”

She looked so sad. What the hell was I thinking? After she walked away, and I ate my meal, and talked with my friend, I looked everywhere for her so I could try to explain. I couldn’t find her.

Since then, I’ve even called the University to ask for my student rosters, but was told they don’t have records going back that far.

So, to that dear student on an afternoon at Macaroni Grill in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I say, “I am very sorry. I hope you are happy and well. If you read these words, and are willing to do so, I would sincerely appreciate your reaching out and giving me another chance.”

 

2 Comments

  1. Christa Hamra

    This is great advice. People come up to me a lot as they “know of me” from my walking. And then the conversation begins. I’m sure the student is well and still admires you as a teacher that meant a lot to her. But what I really need to know is….did you ask the friend out and did she say yes??!! Inquiring minds….

    Reply
  2. Denise Zdunczyk

    Christa, thank you for your comment! I think your website at https://walkfiercely.com/ is great! No wonder people know you through walking. To answer your question, I did not ask the friend out. She was straight, I was just getting up the courage to tell her because it was important to me that she knew! Thank you for asking. 🙂

    Reply

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