Sey Young: A moment can change a lifetime

Teacher shaped student’s future

"What people see you do may not be remembered; what they hear you say may be forgotten; but how they feel your intervention in their times of need will forever be remembered." ― Israelmore Ayivor

In the picture, she is smiling happily. Her light brown hair is gathered in the back with a clip. She is wearing a bright red and white striped top with a pair of reading glasses dangling off her neck attached to a thin gold chain, her hands confidently clasped behind her back as she poses for the photograph. This woman changed my life. I don't even know her name.

Go back 20 years. A young student decides to enter college with a firm plan in mind: to get a degree in languages and literature. Part of that degree would entail mastering a foreign language. Although the student had taken some courses in the planned foreign language, there was nothing remotely resembling proficiency; that would have to come with the course work. Starting in the second year of school, the student signed up for the basic grammar course in the foreign language. Unlike the previous classes, this one required much study and homework. Time, unfortunately for the student, was not something available.

The student had started a new job earlier that year that finally paid decently and was challenging as well. Divorced, and with two children at home to raise, the income was welcomed, but there simply didn't seem a way to make the necessary time to study a foreign language at the fluency the student had planned for. The solution seemed to make itself: Drop the foreign language and just focus on the degree in native language literature. The student went to the department adviser to make the change. The adviser said no problem but had one request. "I want you to wait a week to make sure this is what you want to do," she told the student. "Then if you still feel the same way, we'll make the change."

The next day the student had the class in the demanding foreign language grammar. As the class finished that day, the teacher walked over and asked the student to stay after class so they could talk. "Are you having problems with this class/" the teacher asked, taking off her reading glasses as she spoke and letting them dangle from her neck on the thin gold chain attached to them. The student calmly replied with the same answer given to the adviser the previous day. The normally smiling teacher then got serious. "I'm going to tell you something. Learning a foreign language, I mean really learning, is one of the most difficult things you can do in life. But if you do, the rewards are far greater than you can imagine. It adds a whole new dimension to your view of the world. I can promise you that if you stay with it, you will not regret it." The words rang clear and sound in the student's head. The prior anxieties disappeared. The student would stay. That decision would change my life.

Upon graduation three years later, the student decided to get a master's degree from a university in the foreign language in her degree. She picked the University of Arkansas and so my path soon crossed with this native of Brazil who, thanks to a teacher taking the time to intervene in a student's plan, led us to meet, fall in love, and remain happily married to this day.

Time has erased the teacher's name from my wife's memory. All she knows is that the teacher later had some health issues and passed away several years ago. Sometimes we think of helping people in bold strokes and big moments. But sometimes the world can change, mountains can move, and yes, a future romance can blossom, all by taking the time to share your wisdom with people that need to hear what you have to say. In times like these, there's never been a better day to start.

NAN Our Town on 04/02/2020

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