if you walk through life looking for the good—at Penn, yesterday

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I had all sorts of prospects for my class at Penn yesterday. Just two classes to go, and I had a plan in place, some thoughts about teaching the art of putting another's gestures, postures, cheekbones, eyes on the page. I had things to read, photographs to study, Annie Dillard, Anton Chekhov, Francine Prose, and Cynthia Kaplan in my back pocket. But before we would get to that, we would hear from the students themselves, who had been interviewing each other and writing "practice" profiles.

Except. These were no practice profiles. These were fully developed, deeply moving, vastly important gifts crafted scrupulously for one another. It became important to simply dwell with these pieces, to slow things down, to take note of all the progress my students have made this semester, to honor the insights and the care embedded in their most recent work. There were students who had entered my classroom in winter proclaiming that they couldn't write; how wrong they were. There have been those who have worried about getting things wrong; time and again they got so much right. There were those who cautioned that they might not come to every class, and would probably be late with the assignments. Okay, so. There was only one of those, and he lied. He came. He wrote. Not just extremely well, but also (he amazed us) on time (give or take three minutes).

Soon I'll be able to share one of my student's works, for it will be published in an esteemed magazine. Someday I'll be able to tell you about the others—their gains, their triumphs, their stories.

But for now, in the midst of what has become the busiest season in my life, I want to take a minute and thank my institution, the University of Pennsylvania, for giving me the chance, again, to fall in love (thank you, Greg Djanikian, and thank you, Al Filreis). This is a great privilege, spending time with these students, watching them grow. And it is a great privilege to work at my alma mater. The final project my students will produce is a profile of an individual who inspires. Many of my students have chosen a university professor, and in reading through the profile proposals this morning, I am awed by the many professors I've never met who are radically changing student lives.

If you walk through life looking for the good, you find students like my students. You find an institution like my own.


patti.mallett_pp said...

Yes, looking for good is always the best choice.

And then I want to say, "Who would ever miss one of your classes - or arrive late?"

Answer: No one. Ever.

It is indeed life's greatest privilege. Meeting people. Getting to know them. Walking for a bit at their sides.

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