A Letter To My Sophomore English Teacher: This Is Water

great teachers are rare to come by.

4 years ago

Latest Post The Challenge of Consistency by Lucas Bernicker public

Dear Ms. Ochoa,

In what is possibly the single most pervasive cliche in the commencement speech genre, David Foster Wallace argues that the value of education “is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about teaching you how to think”. Beneath the cliche and typical liberal arts propaganda are valuable lessons about the power of choice and the impact that one person’s voice can have. This year, Ms Ochoa, you have been my David Foster Wallace. Through study, discussion, and the exploration of not only literature's greatest texts, but also of ourselves, you have shown me the gift of perspective and the art of empathy. I think before this class I had a quite Dead Poets Society-esque expectation of what english should be; I believed in the visionary teacher and the elitist attitudes and only read the classics. Yet, now, as I sit in retrospection, I am incredibly thankful for the way Parker has empowered me to reach my own conclusions and to always keep in an open mind.

As I reach adulthood and soon leave the safe, privileged parker bubble, I know that the independence and curiosity instilled into me on a fundamental, subconscious level will carry me far into the future. My education has given me the tools to excel in what career I chose but most importantly, has paved the way for me to advocate and argue for what I believe is right. As we stand at history’s crossroads, torn between the largest civil rights movement, a global pandemic, and rampant unemployment, Parker’s greatest gift of all, and Ms. Ochoa, your unique, singular talent, has been to make me aware of a world larger than my own. As David Foster Wallace describes, “awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: "This is water".

Within the bounds of your classroom, I have seen just a glimpse of the boundary in which I live. Together, we have journeyed closer to the edge, moving ever so close to an ego-death or existentialist realization, where helplessness and nihilism thrive. I hope to keep my eyes open this summer just like yours, Ms. Ochoa, and come back to Parker more aware of myself, of my community, and of the world, than when I left. Just like a fish who finally realizes its surroundings are water, I must always remain adaptable and changing, present and conscious in the moment. Yet, this is not an easy task. To remain in progress is perhaps a Sisyphean goal, one that requires constant dedication and active intent, but I will keep trying, I promise you that.

Mirriam-Webster defines intent as: the state of mind with which an act is done

and I think this perfectly captures its close relationship with action. This year, we have closely studied authors’ intent, from Oscar Wilde to Kafka, and reflected upon the actions of their characters. In the end, we have seen the fateful outcomes of literature’s most beloved protagonists, often ending in death or despair. In my future, I hope to be intentional in everything I do, and act upon my beliefs.

And so I return in full circle, to the idea that the real value in education is choice. Choice makes us feel alive, empowers us, and makes me different from everyone else. Armed with choice, you have taught me, I can still change the world, however cliche it sounds. Thank you for an amazing year Ms. Ochoa. I will never forget our discussions and the way you have impacted me as a student. I truly believe I have grown so much because of you and I hope you never stop teaching because you have been given a gift. Have an amazing summer and see you soon.

Lucas Bernicker

Published 4 years ago