Dear Mrs. English Teacher,
I did not like going to your classes. The workload, the tests, your grading standards — I hated all of it, and I wasn’t alone. Your class made me dread reading and writing. This wouldn’t be remarkable if, say, you taught pre-calculus, because I never was and never will be good at math. English was my thing, though. Your class? Nope. Not a fan.
This is a thank-you letter. Hang in there.
No, I can’t say I liked you during my time as your student, but I owe you a lot.
Do you remember that time you told me to enter an essay contest? I do. It was a little terrifying, actually. There I was, wandering into class like any other day, and you came right at me, pointing your finger.
“YOU,” you said. “You can win this.”
I was confused, distracted by your menacing finger. You explained: A national high school essay contest called for entries on the topic of a book we read in your class, and you wanted me to enter it. You insisted.
The idea of writing an extra paper, just for fun, didn’t excite me, as you might expect from any 16-year-old. Then you dropped the “extra credit” bomb on me, and I told you I’d think about it. Your enthusiasm stuck with me, too. I wasn’t the smartest in our class. I didn’t get the best grades on your papers, but still, you singled me out. Your confidence struck me.
Fun fact: I wrote that essay the night before it was due, at 3 a.m. This became an unhealthy, yet highly fruitful, habit I maintained throughout college.
Anyway, you know what happened: I won. It was a big deal at our little school, in our little suburb. When I think back on the whole thing, it’s like something out of a dream. The principal announced it over the loudspeaker, and high fives came at me from every direction in the hallways that day. The three local newspapers covered it.
Here’s where things get interesting.
In one of the articles, the reporter essentially asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I’d like to be a writer and study journalism, which seemed like an inconsequential question-and-answer at the moment. I wasn’t even sure I meant it.
When the story came out, a friend of my mom’s saw it and called her: “Have you heard of DePauw University?” She told my mom about these sorts of honors programs they had there — her son had applied years ago — and one was in media studies. When my mom relayed the message, that was the first time I had ever heard of DePauw. I’m not sure I would have, otherwise.
What would my life have been like if I didn’t go to DePauw? I wouldn’t have met my husband, for starters, but there are dozens of friendships, experiences and lessons I never would have had. So much of who I am stems from the things and people I encountered because of DePauw.
I’m sharing this with you not just to thank you for telling me about an essay contest, though that was important. It’s how you approached me. The way you seemed convinced of my writing ability. Sure, I always liked writing, and English was my best subject, but I kept my thoughts of becoming a writer to myself. I didn’t think I was good at it. To have someone tell me with such conviction that, yes, I could write, and I was damn good at it — that was invaluable. It gave me the confidence to enter that contest. Winning reinforced your message, and for the first time, I felt comfortable pursuing writing. It suddenly seemed like a viable future.
In case you didn’t know, that’s what I do. Write. I actually get paid to write. Incredible, huh? It’s laughable how this chain of events, starting with a single interaction in English class, eventually led to my writing career. It’s absurd.
Thanks for that. For all of it.
[think kit, february prompt: Write a letter to someone whom you never got a chance to thank for the role they played in your life (a teacher, a neighbor, a relative, etc.). What was it about that person that mattered so much? Why do you feel the need to say thanks? Did you discover something else entirely?]