Message in a Bottle

Ever since A Matter of Semantics was published, I’ve always wanted to see it on a bookshelf, holding its weight against other titles. A few weeks ago, I got that chance when I took a trip to the school where I used to teach – Sussex County Community College (or “Harvard on the hill”, how locals refer to it) – to see my book, on the bookshelf, of the bookstore.


It was a breathtaking experience, one that proves dreams do come true. Teaching there was fun and rewarding. Not fun in the sense of belly laughs or random fits of the giggles, but fun in a manner of being enjoyable and touching, which is what work should be. And rewarding in the sense that it stirred something inside of me, something that fueled and motivated me, something that helped give me a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

The students are what stood out the most, though. Even if I forget some of their names, I will never forget what I learned from them, even if it was how to alter the inflection in my voice, to help them stay away for an 8:00am class!

There are more than a few, however, that will I remember. Who I probably will never see again or will probably never hear from, unless they need a letter of recommendation. (And that’s okay, because that’s what I signed up for, when I signed up to teach!) But, those are the students I wish I could thank, personally…for letting me help them, in their journey to create success. So this is my letter to those students. With social media being the way that it is, I’m hoping each one of them will get this message in a bottle.

Dear Brie – Thanks for the wonderful email you sent me, that semester after you took my class. I never could quite read your facial expressions, so it means a lot to know that you enjoyed our class and (selfishly) that you liked my teaching style! Even though you discovered that college was not for you, I hope you see the value in education – even if it takes downing a can of Red Bull (like you did for our 8:00am class!) to get you through lectures and seminars! I wish you much success in your pursuit of a career in cosmetology and I know you’ll do fabulously. I don’t like giving advice, but if I can even be of any help, please reach out. My sister owns her own salon!

Dear Kali – You were another person whose facial expression I could never quite read. With all you had going on personally, I never knew if you were going to show up to class, so I’m glad you always did. During that semester you spent in my class, when you told me that you didn’t have much family or support in the area, I remember saying to my wife how I wanted to invite you to our home for Thanksgiving dinner. But I was too cautious and wary of the social stigma and mixed message that would have sent. My wish for you is that you dare to dream! Even without a support system, you can accomplish anything that you want! But first, you have to dare to dream it, in order to make it your reality! And don’t lose your positive attitude. It’ll serve you well in the years to come. I’d like to hear all about your endeavors; I wish we could have kept in contact.

Dear Colleen – People often say things like, there is no such thing as perfection, and I laugh. From the moment my son was born, he has always been, in my eyes, perfect. He cried himself to sleep some nights, or threw temper tantrums, or wouldn’t eat his vegetables, but he was always, perfect. Likewise, you were perfect. Whenever I need an image of how I’d like students to approach my course, I think of you – always being on time, always taking notes, always giving your best effort. (Surely, if I could have given you a grade higher than an A, I would have.) The way you carried yourself was even more impressive – leading by example, displaying patience and flexibility, accepting challenges and never taking the easy road. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. If I had attended SCCC, you would have been one person I’d want to be friends with, and have in my circle of friends and support system. By now, I hope you’re pursuing your dreams of becoming a social worker. I have no doubt you will get there. I’d love to hear from you, someday, and catch up over lunch. Stay perfect.

Dear John – One day you’re going to wake up and find yourself living the life you have dreamed about for so long. Trust me, but more than that, trust yourself! Your passion and drive reminds me of myself, once upon a time. I’m sure we could be cousins, somewhere down a family line. I know you’re always seeking advice, and I always talk in circles because, well, there’s nothing I can say to you (in some contrived fashion) that will instantly change the way you see and approach the world. So I will say to you, what I wish I had known during my first year of college – First, the way you see things is just a reflection of your background and upbringing. It doesn’t make you right or wrong, it’s just your perspective. Harm comes when you hold people to your standards, like how I used to think girls were sluts and hoes simply because they wore short shorts. If that were true, that would have made most women I knew, and even my wife, a hoe. So be open to expanding your perspective. Secondly, the world isn’t small, it’s big. So dream big. Dream bigger than New Jersey or Florida, dream about sipping wine atop the Eiffel Tower or going sightseeing in the Serengeti. Dream bigger than what you have experienced, like writing that book you never thought you could. Then, use the college experience to help you achieve those dreams. And don’t let anyone rob you of your dreams!

Dear Haley – Even though were just a student, there were times you felt more like the little sister I never had. On those days where it was a struggle for you to be in class, all I wanted to do was caution you to the carnal nature of men (or boys!), and help you bring light to your dreams that had been trapped in darkness, and give you a hug and tell you everything would be okay. A big, burly, comforting bear hug. To show you that a man’s touch could be supportive and nurturing, without being at all sexual. But I couldn’t show favoritism. I pray that you’re doing well, wherever your journey has taken you. Now that you’re no longer the pupil, don’t hesitate to reach out should you ever be in need. I hope we get to have lunch sometime soon, and that I get to meet your son, Caleb!

Dear Kim – You’d probably never guess, but my favorite singer is Alanis Morissette and she has a song entitled, “So-Called Chaos”, the theme of which fits you perfectly. I know you’re wracking your brain over majors, schools, careers and the like. But what if I told you that you will find answers as soon as you stopped looking? I don’t have any empirical evidence to support this notion, I just have anecdotal stories. Like the time the guy was searching so hard for a girlfriend because he didn’t want to be alone. Yet, when he decided to embrace being single and concentrate on himself, magically, a girl walked right into his life, as if she already had the key to his heart. Fret not about what major you’ll pursue or what career you’ll end up having. What’s most important now is YOU. I almost wish you would leave the community college and go to a four-year school. There, you’ll have a greater exposure to different majors (you could choose between Molecular Biology, Emergency Medicine or Physical Therapy, but at SCCC your choices are Bio, Chem, and that’s it!); professors (who can help you distinguish/differentiate between all of those majors); and students (who can share with you the cool things they are doing, so you can formulate your own career path). Things are not supposed to be perfect right now, because you’re still figuring it all out. They’re supposed to be nerve wracking and chaotic, and that chaos is what’s going to help you get where you want to be. So embrace it. Kick off your shoes. Take a leap of faith and enjoy the chaos.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: