Several years ago I saw a poster that said “To teach is to touch a life forever”. I like the sentiment and in general agree with it, but my experience of teaching in higher ed is that the students touch my life as much or more than I touch theirs. It is a gift that my work gives me and I feel like in general I do a good job of remembering this. But there are some days I remember this more sharply than others.
Yesterday I was on the receiving end of a call similar to one I made a few years ago. Then, I was program chair and was calling to tell our department faculty and staff that one of our students had been killed in the shooting at the Waffle House. Yesterday, I received a call from my program chair (who I am thankful to call a friend) that one of our former students had been killed in an accident related to the tornado that had passed through our area the day before. This student, Laurel, graduated with her BSW in May of 2022 and stayed at our university to study law. I had the privilege of teaching her in several classes throughout her BSW and I can say that her commitment to justice was unwavering. She was a pleasure to teach and to know, and the fact that I got to watch her knowledge and commitment deepen over 4 years is a privilege. She was a genuinely good human; full of spirit and laughter and life. Her last semester of undergrad she had a class in another department on a schedule that meant she was often in our suite during lunch time. There was one particular day of each week our schedules overlapped and she and I frequently shared food around the table in our suite. I loved hearing her plans for the future as she was nearing graduation.
As the parent of three daughters, what I have been thinking about all day today are all the times I heard her talk about her sister. With love, with joy, with pride. Laurel loved her little sister so very much.
I am at the stage of my parenting where my kids are getting older: two high schoolers and one middle schooler. We had some long planned college visits to make this weekend, and as I have been on a couple of different campuses today I have seen reminders of Laurel in many spaces and places, including that of my own children. Watching “my girls” together and thinking about how my oldest will be going to college soon is both exciting and fearful. Seeing their relationship together brings me joy; though not perfect, it is full of sisterly bonds that I (an only child) always craved growing up.
I know that I cannot feel the depths of the grief that her mother and sister and other family members are feeling. I can barely process it from my own perspective. I can only imagine the longing they are feeling.
I am faithful enough to believe that we will see her again. I am human enough to wish I could have lunch with her again in Inman 205.
I am thankful to have the gift of work that keeps me continually in the relationship of wonderful humans.
May she rest in peace and power and the feeling of being deeply loved.