Friday, October 28, 2011

My Student, My Hero

There are some occasions when a student remembers his professor as a guide on how to run his life. He cherishes that relationship and uses that professor's lectures as a standard for future decision making.
In my life, I’ve had such people guide me. But in a very real sense, one of my students has become my hero. Ronnie has the size and appearance of an NFL linebacker. He towers over me and I’ve always thought if I really got in trouble I’d want him walking into a situation with me. Not that he’s violent, but his imposing size would prevent others from going too far with impunity.
But, of course, that’s not why he’s my hero. He went to a tough inner city school and after school ended, he went to the library and stayed there until it closed. He tried very hard and because he had brains, people wanted to help him.
By the time I was teaching him in Feature Writing, he was working at Home Depot and Kmart at the same time. He wrote thoughtful pieces that showed great talent and I thought that he was as good as any student I ever taught at the Newhouse School. My dream was for him to write at the New York Times.
Of course, by the time he graduated newspapers were going out of business or hanging by a thread. So he has a good job in government, Right before he graduated he wrote an article in the school newspaper that asked: “If the school is 30 percent African American why should there be a separate Black graduation?” He didn’t care what other African Americans might say to him, because there was no party line on how African Americans had to feel or think.
He drove an hour and a half to have dinner with me the other night. I was really looking forward to seeing him, because I feel like he’s an American hero and he passes on his strength to me simply by being my friend. He’s the best kind of American, one who thinks deeply about things and isn’t afraid to say something when he sees an injustice. If my daughters weren’t already in college, I’d make him their guardian if I passed on. My life is better because I had the privilege of teaching him. My life continues to go well, because he’s my friend.

Originally published on 10/18/11

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