Non-Measurable Mondays is a weekly feature for the Fall 2015 semester, featuring stories and essays on modes of student success that cannot be grasped by data. We are seeking submissions for the full semester, which can be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more details, see the original post here.
About five years ago I had a voice mail from the father of a former student, Kelly B. She had been in a summer school class of mine about three years prior to when I got the voice mail. I remembered her right away when he said her name.
Back then, in about the third week of the class, she came to me and said that she needed a letter. I said, “Sure. What for?” Turns out that she was only in the class because she’d been paroled and needed to be in school or have a job. She had a hearing coming up on whether she would have to stay under confinement to her house, which would make the school thing impossible. So I wrote a letter saying what she’d been doing in class and how she had done enthusiastic work–leaving out some things about the grades and comprehension and the rest (she was very under-prepared, but trying at least). The judge accepted it, but I don’t think she finished the class.
Anyway, years later, her dad‘s call came. In that voice mail he told me she had died as a result of her struggles with substance abuse, and he was calling to ask my permission to read part of my letter in her eulogy. He said something like, “She was many things, but in recent years, she’d come to be defined by her struggles. But she kept your letter as a reminder of what else she was. We don’t have anything else like it.” I saved that voice mail for years.
David Richardson is Professor of Philosophy at Harold Washington College.