For at least the past year, my blogging here has been obsessed with beginnings and endings. This post will continue, and perhaps fittingly, end that trend. This spring, I tried to think deliberately about how to create a memorable moment at the very end of the semester. While attending a church service, I was struck by the function of a traditional benediction, a moment where the congregation is sent out into the world with a mission. I began to think about issuing my students a charge to take the lessons of the semester and live their lives with a new sense of historical consciousness. But our experience required more than just a charge. It required a sense of closure. I work to build a fairly intimate classroom environment, even in my lecture courses, and I wanted to pay honor to the relationships that we built over the past several months.
There was another layer of sentimentality wrapped up here as well; this was my last class at the college. I will be moving on to another position next year, and, for me, this last moment would be my goodbye not only to these students, but also to to the college where I was fortunate to connect with so many wonderful students.
Here is what I came up with. I am partly embarrassed to reveal this sappy stuff beyond my classroom, but I offer it as a suggestion of ways that you might honor the community you’ve built with your semester and leave your students a memorable moment to take away from your time together.
Dear [GO THROUGH THE ROOM AND NAME EACH STUDENT],
Thank your for your hard work this semester. For your courage to speak up when you’d rather stay quiet. Thank you for the late nights you spent writing, reading, thinking. Thank you for bringing your energy and enthusiasm into this room every [DAYS OF CLASS]. Thank you for your questions, for pushing me to rethink my assumptions, because you have. Thank you for your creativity. Grading papers is hard, occasionally annoying, and even sometimes depressing. But reading new, insightful ideas is exhilarating. And you had many of these ideas. Thank you for coming to my office, rescuing me from my own research and inviting me to share more about history and about how we can learn.
I’m sorry for the moments when I was a jerk. Some of those moments were intentional. I wanted to push you outside of your comfort zone and snap some of you out of your apathy. Some of these moments were just because I can be a jerk. If I erred on the side of aggressiveness this semester, I did so with the goal of inspiring you to learn. But I apologize nonetheless.
I also apologize for all the dumb jokes. Thanks again for indulging me. I have had a lot of fun in this room with you.
I wish you the best with the rest of your education, which I hope lasts your lifetime. My goal this semester was to encourage your curiosity, your intellectual courage, and your ability to think critically.
I hope you continue to grow intellectually and morally. I believe history has a moral function. It takes us out of ourselves and connects us to one another. It can teach us who we are. Why we think what we think. Why we feel what we feel. History has made me a more compassionate person. That’s right, I used to be even worse than this! History has showed me that my experience is not everyone’s experience. But it has also shown me that I am not so terribly unique that I cannot relate to others, even those who seem so different from me. I hope you caught a bit of this as well. I hope you will continue asking questions. Continue to try to see the world through eyes other than your own. Continue to wrestle with the question about what is the universal human experience, and what is the product of your particular circumstances. Your age, your gender, your sexuality, your race, your class, and your upbringing. I hope you continue seeking to connect with others. Both in the present and in the past.
You all are great, and again, thank you; I wish you all the best.
Thanks also to our TUSH readers. We will see you again next spring!