Dear Ms. Penick-
As you may know, I have returned to Abilene (not unlike a bad penny), and as a good Abilenian and Wylie graduate, I read the Wylie Growl Magazine to keep up with all the Purple and Gold news. I was utterly unsurprised to read that you had been named into the Hall of Honor and hope you can find time in your retirement to read one more of my long-winded essays. This one’s about you—knowing your humble nature, I wonder if the subject makes this one harder or easier for you to read? (I suspect the former.)
It feels like just yesterday that I was sitting in your classroom. I remember it so clearly—in fact even down to the position of the desk where I sat during my freshman and junior years (except for that one odious day when I was banished to the principal’s office for my disgracefully troublesome jeans with the threadbare knees). More importantly than my physical location in the classroom, though, I remember the most profound lesson you taught us: words matter.
Novelists and readers alike know that words matter, but high school students, generally, do not. This is just as evident listening to the way they speak to each other in the hallways during passing periods as it is when you ask them to expound on a passage from a well-written piece of prose. Yet somewhat like a writer crafting a novel, as you edited and corrected our papers and our speech, you managed to convince so many of us that words indeed do matter.
They matter on a page, certainly, even worn Shakespearean pages, because they describe and decode the mysteries of life and love and lust. They matter when spoken in a presidential debate for all the world to hear or when whispered quietly between a mother and her son. They matter when painted on billboards and used to convince us to buy material things, and they matter when smashed together after a hashtag in the name of a social movement. They matter when they provide a welcome escape for a mind too frequently assaulted by the facts and figures of the didactic portions of dental school. They matter when they are ancient and grounding words that speak to our souls of things unseen. Perhaps most of all, they matter because they outlive us now, more than ever before, these words we write down on paper or online.
Your lesson gave me an understanding of the weight that words carry, and that understanding has helped me in my interpersonal relationships, my marriage, and my parenting of two beautiful and frighteningly impressionable little boys. It has given me an outlet for my emotions and an escape for my mind. Your lesson provided me with an introduction to two of the greatest loves in my life: reading and writing.
Is it any surprise that I have rambled on and on? It seems I may have been in the principal’s office during your lesson on being concise. Here is the thesis statement, Ms. Penick: You taught me that words matter, and your legacy of teaching that lesson matters very much to me and to so many of your protégés. Please accept my most heartfelt congratulations on your honors and your retirement.
Sincerely and ever-indebted to you,
Lauren Oglesby Edwards