A man came up to me at the Greenville, South Carolina, Great Homeschool Convention, asking this dreaded question. Actually, he said it more delicately . . . something like, “You probably won’t remember me.”
The fact is, thirty years have passed since I last saw him graduating from SMU with a Masters degree in Music Theory. He had taken a Mozart Opera seminar from me, as well as Music Bibliography—one of those graduate courses designed to take undergraduates and turn them into professional researchers.
I did not recognize him, sorry to say. But the minute he said his name, I was flooded with memories. Oddly enough, I remember students first by recalling their handwriting. Somehow, handwriting stays vivid in my mind. It transfers both identity and intellectual substance in such a way that I can almost see myself mulling over their long-ago tests and quizzes. (Of course, with public schools discarding the critical skill of handwriting, will future generations develop a written identity at all?)
Simultaneously to recalling handwriting, I recall the kind of work a student did, particularly if it was excellent. And his was. After that, I try to remember who was in class with them, as well as important things such as what they performed on their senior recitals.
It’s all great fun. But the greatest pleasure comes from looking at a grown former student and connecting the excellent work done back then with the wonderful things he or she now pursues. These accomplishments may not be in music, or even within the arts. Students take paths that were unimaginable when they sat trapped in desks in a music-history classroom.
This long-ago student certainly has done marvelous things. He happily agreed that I could give his name: Dr Roger O’Neel, now a Professor of Worship at Cedarville University. After completing his Masters in Music Theory (as well as a Masters in Conducting), he earned his Ph.D. in Theory at the University of Texas. Then he worked in many capacities, including in church ministry. A professor now, he’s also raising a big family and, at that conference, was representing Cedarville University (Ohio) as a speaker and a college recruiter.
The following day, I sat in on his absolutely beautiful talk entitled Shepherding Your Child’s Heart. It was based on a clear and (for me) novel reading of the 23rd Psalm. I may not have immediately recognized Roger’s face, but I certainly knew this Roger whose logical, insightful, and persuasive rhetoric illuminated the room.
Much of my life has been devoted to students—college students for decades and, now, high-schoolers who are struggling to take the next step. What these “kids” don’t know (and I didn’t either) is that life will take you on completely unforeseen journeys. These journeys don’t stop when you graduate college, or even when you start your first job. They don’t stop when you marry or your kids grow up, either. If the desire for learning and the receptivity to new experiences stay strong, then the journey will continue to transform you throughout your life.
I began by writing that Roger asked me a dreaded question. It’s also a most blessed question. It’s scary only for those first seconds as one wracks one’s brain trying to figure it out. After that, it’s one of the greatest of all questions. It opens a window through which light pours, filling one’s heart with joy.