Letter to My Former Student

November 9, 2016

Dear X,

As you can imagine, I’m pretty busy most days here at [school], and, sadly, I’ve been looking at your letter on my desk for too long now , waiting for a time to write a grateful reply. Today, however, is the day after the Presidential election, and, today, I feel that writing to you is the best way I can spend my time. Not only that — a necessary way. I need to examine my life on a day like today.

Your letter was amazing, literally. All teachers treasure these kinds of messages from former students, whenever we’re fortunate enough to get them (usually, in the form of an email). I read your typed, U.S.-mailed letter and was open-mouthed, speechless, and not just at the ‘non-Internet-ness’ of it. I had no idea, X, how much my Humanities course meant to you, how much you learned from it, how much you were inspired by it. I can only say I’m immensely pleased to know this, now. I’m so pleased that the words of these great thinkers touched you as they did, which is what they’re supposed to do. Which is what I believe they can do, which is why we must read and consider them, and thus become great and sensitive readers, which only means fully intelligent, compassionate people. Realized people. As for me as your teacher, I can only assume humility and simply say, thank you. Thank you for feeling that and for reaching out and letting me know. By doing so, you’ve helped me to feel better about what it is I spend most of my days doing, particularly on a day like today when much of what we do as educators feels irrelevant, even fruitless.

X, I know you’ll spend your time at college moving forward, taking nothing for granted, working hard, and telling people in your kind, considerate way the truth of how you feel. You’ll understand that education is a right we have to fight for, daily, for ourselves and for one another. That without it, we can’t do the right thing by our neighbors nor for our loved ones. I would argue, especially for our loved ones. Without education, we get too lost in our own confusion, hobbling ourselves by angers not always unreasonable but unproductive. Tragically, we strike out most at others, most severely, when we really don’t understand ourselves, and, in time, this wounds us even more.

I was talking to my 1st hour AP Lit class this morning: we shared how we felt about this election decision. We spoke of our confusion, our ignorance, our concerns. I remembered again why we teach, and why we learn. You’re living proof of the power of this. You look at your life now and realize how much more empowered you are because of the Socratic injunction we spoke of last year: the unexamined life is not worth living. You have learned to embrace what you don’t know in exchange for what you want to understand, what you want to be. You see your potential for defeating what scares you. You grasp fully the strength you possess already.

I wish you all the best I can. It’s a dark time. As we learned the Buddha said, be a lamp unto yourself. But, also, be a lamp unto others. Educate others to recognize what they themselves can do. And why it’s so essential, so frighteningly necessary, they do just that. Doing all of what we have it in us to do.


Ryan Asmussen