Dear Ms. Massey,
When I turned eighteen, I knew I wanted to go to college immediately, but there were challenges along the way.
You see, my parents would not grant my grandmother custody of me, despite my living with her. Additionally, both of them refused to pay for my tuition to go back to a regular high school (tuition that was required to be paid if a student does not live with a legal guardian). Eventually child support was redirected to my grandmother, who gave every penny of it to me to help me learn independence with budgeting.
Due to these unfortunate circumstances, I could only obtain a G.E.D. and to me, an honor roll student, it fell far below my capabilities. I wished to have gotten a normal high school diploma, so I could feel like I had a "real" education (later, I did learn that my G.E.D. was enough.)
Then my father took me and my grandmother to court the right after I turned eighteen, demanding my child support be ended based on, according to his lawyer, "The assumption that Ms. [retracted] is incapable of seeing tasks through from start to finish. In addition, Ms. [retracted] is not in college at this time."
Ms. Massey, I wish you knew how much I cried in the courtroom that day. My own father didn't believe in me. Why else would his lawyer say that, if not on the behalf of his own words?
However, I had already enrolled in a place called Indiana Business College (as far as I know, it no longer operates) where you worked. By law, he had to continue supporting me as I was a college student. Classes just had not begun.
The lawyer angrily stated that I had not been in school when the movement to end child support was filed. The judge looked at my father after my tearful presentation of a class schedule and graded assignments and asked, "How was she supposed to start classes before classes started?" He cited the date conflictions.
The dig about my inability to complete things festered painfully in my heart. I knew I was good at school. I knew I had a knack for good grades---it just always came naturally to me. I wanted to find somewhere I knew I'd succeed, where I felt comfortable and surrounded by resources, and Indiana Business College provided a lot of promise for guided learning and hands-on assistance at all times.
I was accepted with no hesitation and I enjoyed my classes very much. They were easy. It took no effort to complete my work on time and accurately, so I was quite comfortable with the ease of my success. Perhaps I wasn't facing many intellectual challenges, but at least I had the comfort of succeeding pushing me along.
In my second semester, I landed in your English class.
I loved your teaching style. You were so comfortable with us and it made me feel at ease. You made jokes, threw sarcasm, but kept the aspect of learning serious enough that we cared about the information. Your class was, again, incredibly easy for me.
A couple of weeks into the semester, class ended one evening and you pulled me aside. Once the room had emptied, you asked me a question that made me lose any ability to form a coherent answer:
"What are you doing here?"
I paused, toyed with my shoe on the floor, stared down at the carpet, and shrugged.
"What do you mean?"
"You are too good for this place. So why are you here"
I spent several minutes explaining how I felt about my education, my father taking me to court, losing faith in myself...everything.
"I had to do this on my own, I had to pick a place to go and get in and I thought that since I hadn't been in a real school since ninth grade that this place would be best. I don't know anything about how to get into bigger colleges. I thought I'd do well here because there are so many people to help."
You listened. Not to reply, but to understand.
"Let me explain something to you," you told me. "Indiana Business College is a fantastic school for those who need it. You, Danielle, do not need the help. Look at this paper." You picked up a research paper of mine with an A grade written boldly and proudly. "You know exactly what you're doing. You know your stuff! So again, I ask, what are you doing here?"
"I'm scared that I'm not as good as I think I am," I blurted out honestly.
"Tell you what." You scooted back from your desk and faced me. "When this semester ends, drop this college, and go to the local community college. The work is more your speed. You'll be challenged, and you need those challenges. I'm going to give you my number. In case you need help or have any questions, please call me."
I rushed home that night to speak with my grandmother who agreed with you, Ms. Massey. She knew I was capable of more than I gave myself credit for, too.
Within a couple of weeks, I was enrolling at the community college. Although I had a moment of panic and did, indeed, call you on your cell phone to cry about being nervous and not being sure where to go.
You calmly walked me through the next steps of my enrollment and directed me to the right building with the right office I needed. From there, my enrollment went smoothly, and I transitioned to the community college the very next semester.
I went to that college until my dreams for my future redirected my path and, eventually, earned a degree in legal work.
And, Ms. Massey, I'm not perfect because of this encouragement you gave me: many times I question my brilliance, often I feel a bit too dumb, but when I remember what you did for me and the path it lead me to makes me so grateful I had you.
You weren't a mentor for long, but your short stint in guiding me with your faith in my abilities changed a lot about how I felt as a student. You gave me hope, courage, and the strength to try new things. You helped me face the fears of not being good enough and introduced me to a better, more proper education.
I don't know where you are nowadays, but I hope that somewhere out there, you see this letter and remember that pleasant, quiet girl in your Communications class who liked to write and read. She's been writing and making money from doing so while being confident in her education and approaching scary new things. She grew up a whole lot.
Wherever you are, I hope you have all of the happiness in the world. You played a huge role in helping me find mine.
With Love and Admiration,
Danielle (Dani Banani)