I spent most of yesterday afternoon in my office at Rollins College deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. For six years, since my retirement from Rollins, I have kept a tiny office in Orlando Hall with a view of Lake Virginia. But now, I have to be out of it by the end of the week to make room for a new hire in the English Department. By the look of things, I am not going to make that deadline. When I entered the office at noon, I was plunged into years of documentation of my professional life—in over-stuffed file cabinets, bulging book cases, and six wire baskets over-flowing with magazine and journal articles, photos, handouts, assignments, more articles, lesson plans, and a good number of student essays.
Four hours later, I was exhausted (physically and emotionally), and Dash was hungry and anxious, so we left. I took with me two large boxes of stuff to sift through at home, hoping I could throw most of it away once I was away from this super-charged space. That evening, I spent three hours on the living room floor sifting through the faded and rumpled material from my desktop, as I touched each piece, feeling the after-shock of a past life. It’s not surprising that it has taken me six years to dis-assemble this office. Who would want to do that to so much evidence of a life well spent? I knew this day would come, but I really have been in denial. These pieces on my living room floor, and all the rest that waits for me in the office, are markers of what was once a very fulfilling identity.
Late in the evening, one student essay caught my attention. It was a final essay in a creative nonfiction workshop I taught in the fall of 1995. I had folded it in half lengthwise and written the student’s name in the upper right-hand corner. Scott Boghossian. December 5, 1995. I had been teaching at Rollins for six years in 1995, and would go on to teach there for another eighteen years. I taught a lot of students in those years, but I remembered this essay entitled “Demons.” It starts with this line: “At the age of sixteen, I found myself empty.”
I could never forget Scott Boghossian. Shy, smart, a loner, troubled—or maybe just enlightened. And one of the best writers I have ever worked with. I adored him.
Attached to the ten-page essay was my comment sheet, written on December 15, 1995. This is going to be unorthodox, but I really want to share with you the whole comment sheet. You see, I’m in the middle of removing every last bit of evidence of me and my students from the hallowed halls of Rollins College. I’m taking every pencil, every piece of paper, every grade book, every assignment and syllabus I ever wrote, and every report I ever submitted to the gaping mouth of college governance. By the end of this week, I will be completely gone from Rollins College, a place I relished for 25 years.
And now, so much of those 25 years comes down to this one comment sheet written to a young man named Scott Boghossian, one of thousands of comment sheets I have written in my career. But today, this one comment sheet sums up a huge part of my experience at Rollins: the joys of bright and openhearted students; the thrill of watching raw talent grow; the awareness, almost daily, that I was not giving them enough; and the sadness that keen and quirky students would leave before I had the chance to tell them the beautiful truth about themselves.
The fact that I still have this paper and its comment sheet is evidence that Scott Boghossian never saw my words to him, or the grade I placed at the end of the comments, or the pretty little wreath sticker I put in the lower corner, a pitiful attempt at holiday cheer. And that’s why I am compelled to display my comments here. They have to go out to someone in this world. Someone else needs to know how remarkable he was.
It occurred to me only after you left my office the other day that I might not see you for a while, since you’re going to be leaving after Christmas. Right? It’s possible I might not see you ever again—and that made me really sad. I want to re-do that last visit in my office and let you know how much I have enjoyed knowing you and working with you in classes, how much I have just liked knowing who you are. You’re such a good and interesting person. And I’ve really been happy to have you in my classes.
I hope you find what you want when you go north. I hope you find a vocation that will be worthy of you. I hope you have a good and satisfying life. And, I hope you continue to write. You are an incredibly good writer.
Other than what we discussed in that last conversation, I don’t know what more to say to you about your piece. I’ve only corrected a few punctuation errors. I wouldn’t dare suggest changing any part of this essay. What I will suggest is that you try sending this off for publication. I don’t know if it will go or not, but it’s certainly worth a try. I would try Granta, The Iowa Review, and Creative Nonfiction, or maybe even The Missouri Review. Sent it to
The Missouri Review
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65201
Tell him I told you to send it to him—he’s a friend. It’s worth a try. It’s such a quirky piece; you’re going to have to find the right market. But I think it should be published. Please try. OK?
Well, in case I don’t ever see you again, please know that I have a lot of faith in you, Scott. I hope you will continue to write, and I hope you flourish in this talent you have.
My very best to you.
Scott’s essay has remained in my Rollins office, albeit hidden, for close to 24 years. And now that it’s found, what do I do with it? I can’t throw it away; it would break my heart. But where does it go? Into a “memorabilia” folder that will remain in a file cabinet in my bedroom closet? Who will find it there when I’m dead? My niece? My lawyer? Will they care to read it? Will they even note it?
So you see, this is my small attempt to mitigate my carelessness with Scott Boghossian’s talent. He never knew I thought his essay was worthy of being published in a prestigious literary journal like The Missouri Review. Editor Greg Michaelson never had the opportunity to accept it for publication. No readers saw it there, and praised it highly. It was just me in December 1995, in this tiny office that I’m about to leave, reading his words and weeping. And I can only hope, that after he left Rollins, someone else showed him the beautiful truth about himself.
But now, a quarter of a century too late, you know the beautiful truth about Scott Boghossian, too.
Spread the word.