And more often than you may think, we do remember.
From across many years and many miles, sometimes with small promptings like a maiden name, we recollect a student: where she sat in class, something he said in a seminar one day, an aspiration she carried with her upon graduating. What we rarely remember is the grade he or she earned.
I received one such e-mail earlier this summer from someone who I had taught fifteen years ago: “My name is Farhia Shah. I'm an old class of 2000 student of yours. I took one semester of Sophomore Year Humanities and a Public Speaking course with you. I live quite far away these days and am visiting family in NH. I was wondering if I could stop over to say hello. What's a good time?”
Nearly any time is good for such a visit. And the misty June afternoon when we shared lunch together in the College Coffee Shop was a good time indeed. Farhia was a Biology major who had gone on to earn a doctorate in Physical Therapy before returning with her husband and daughter to her family’s home country of Pakistan, where she practices as a therapist and teaches at a university. Her descriptions of her everyday life in Pakistan were intriguing, though little could match her wide-eyed enthusiasm when she described the chance she had to travel to Europe and finally see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the David, works we had studied in seminar years before.
Besides hosting surprise visits like this, we correspond with many alumni annually, monthly, and sometimes even weekly. New graduates are often seeking letters of recommendation or career advice, but after five years or so there is rarely any practical necessity for them to stay in touch with their teachers. But stay in touch they do. And it is our job – from across the years and the miles — to remember: to steward well this place in their lives that they recall so fondly and to be a curator as well of that time in their lives when they began to become the person they are now. To me it is just one more thing that makes our work sacred. That our graduates grow older while we do not is but an added bonus.
In five short weeks I will stand before bright new members of the class of 2017. I will tell them that they have an opportunity to form relationships here at Saint Anselm that will help sustain them for a lifetime. If they hear me, they will only partly believe me. That’s okay. It is one of the many truths that is about to unfold before them.
Meanwhile, for those of you who already know this truth, we’ll leave the back porch light on.