Farewell Letter

Dear Students,

Today is Thanksgiving day. My husband is driving back to our hometown (Detroit) right now—because his mother is very ill. She’s in the hospital. It is possible she might die. I did not travel with him because I have been sick with a cold the past few days, and I cannot imagine spending 5 hours in a car and then hours in a cold hospital room. But, as I sit here, on Thanksgiving morning, alone, I wonder: “Why am I so selfish?” My husband right now is facing this ordeal on his own, without me. I’m supposed to be his best friend.

All this is rather depressing. Yet, in my moping, today, my thoughts turn to you all, and I smile. Though this sad, lonely, Thanksgiving day is indeed sad…this sadness brings the benefits of sadness: time to contemplate. Time to think.

What have I taught you this quarter? Have I taught you anything at all practical or inspiring about writing? I hope I have. In any case, whatever happened between us—in the space from here to there (in this classroom)—is over now. Tomorrow you will go on with your lives, with Composition 101 done and behind.

Why am I writing this letter? The reason is: I want to say thank you. You are the 4th group of students I’ve ever taught (ever), and, the truth is, you’ve been my favorite. That’s why I’m writing this letter. I don’t just write letters for anybody! You’ve been my favorite. Your patience and good humor will always stay in my memory.

When I began teaching last year, I invented a motto for myself. It was a motto I’d repeat silently in my head before walking into a classroom, every morning. I’d say: “What can I learn from my students today?” I started saying that last fall and I’ve been saying it ever since. I came up with that motto as a way of calming myself down (believe it or not, I have a fear of public speaking that I constantly battle). But I think the more important reason for the motto is that it’s a way of lifting the entire burden of education off of my shoulders. That motto means that learning happens BEST when both teacher and student learn, from each other. I do not have the full responsibility for teaching you. You have half the responsibility, too. You—my students—must want to learn; you must want to contribute. And when you contribute, I learn in the process. My motto has never felt so exciting than it has been this quarter. I feel I have learned a lot from you all.

Let me close this letter by saying one more thing: Whatever career you choose, pick a career that you truly enjoy doing. Moreover, pick a job that let’s you get beyond yourself. You are all filled with lovely possibility, and you all can contribute your unique talents in ways that heal this world, rather than harder it, rather than hurt it. It seems to me that many people pick jobs that end up hurting the world; sometimes they don’t even realize it.
I don’t care if you choose English as your major, and I don’t actually care what major you choose. What I do care about is that you keep your heart open. Listen for what your inner voice whispers to you. Pick not just a “job”—but a vocation that you love and that you can use to love others. Reach for more.


Heather Trahan

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