Last night I had the pleasure and honor of hanging out with some former students of mine. Over the years, whenever someone would ask me why I did not have children, or else would compel me to have children, I would answer: “I have many children; hundreds of them.” I was, of course, referring to my students over the years working at AUB and AUST here in Beirut. Whereas the university structure here demands a certain hierarchy and distance between students and faculty, I have never seen pedagogy as working this way. My office was open to all, and many used it as a workspace, some as a drop-in therapy center, some to take refuge from the drastic “weeding out” process that was designed to make sure that not all succeeded in their studies.
This weeding out applied to professors as well, especially those who didn’t “live up to expectations” concerning the bogus constructed realms of art and design. And so when my promotion case came around, and the machinations to make sure it failed took place, my former students rallied and nominated me for a second time for an award in teacher excellence. I was informed this was happening, but told them that I did not want to know about it; ethically I should not be involved. When offered later copies of the letters that were written on my behalf, I declined. I was quite happy with the knowledge that they thought enough of me to go to such an effort.
Last night I was presented with a going-away present. The collected letters, and a calligraphied cover reading: “Daniel, Ibn Bahijeh”. Each time I look at the cover I am reduced to tears, it is so powerful written out this way. I wrote a note last night in thanks, and it reads thus:
Thank you so much for such a lovely evening last night. It was so nice to hang out with all of you, my own original family here. I’m so proud of all of you, and it is painful to leave, but I’ve never imagined time or distance spent apart from friends and family to be a barrier, and so here the same. The booklet is beautiful; I read one letter and lost it! Thank you all so much for the good memories and the kind words….truly I am blessed and lucky and honored to know you all.
To all my students: With tears in my eyes as I write this, please know you’ve done me proud. I am truly honored and blessed to have known you, to see you grow, to attend your weddings, write your recommendations, and watch you move on in this world, whether here, abroad, or both. Please keep in touch and let me know where you are with your lives! What kind of child doesn’t write home!? Wallaw! walla ghayb! Seriously, though…I’m thinking of the greengrocers where I “work” at night at the corner, and the chabaab there whom many of you know. When I try to buy something from them, the reply is a very Lebanese: “cadeau, ustaaz.” And my reply is always: “You are my gift”. And so here. Much love to you all, and my sincerest thanks. Until our paths cross again, inch’allah….