It pains me to admit it, but I don’t remember all of them. There, I said it.
I would estimate that somewhere in the neighborhood of 6000 students have passed through Hyde’s doors since I began as a neophyte teacher-coach in the fall of 1977. Not only is that a lot to remember, but I guess I need to come clean on another truth: my ability to remember stuff is not what it was in 1977.
The cool thing is that I was somehow endowed with a filter which tends to let me remember the good stuff and forget the bad. More than a few times I’ve been visited by former students who sheepishly apologize for some transgression they might have committed 15-20 years before, and they end up shocked on two counts. First, they can’t believe that I don’t remember the incident. Then they are stunned that I do recall a particular pass they made on a lacrosse field or a strong term paper they might have written on The Federalist Papers. (Typically, they exhibit their own lack of memory on whatever I offer.) I don’t know why it’s true, but I’m glad that it is.
This past weekend, Laura and I went to San Francisco to join several Hyde folks and 600+ others in celebrating the life of Ben Burlock ’12. As most Hyde people already know, in early November, Ben, while conversing with a group of his fellow Tulane students on a Saturday evening, fell seven feet from a balcony, immediately slipping into a coma, never regaining consciousness.
I will remember Ben not for his untimely death, but for three qualities.
First, he was truly loved and respected by all. On the one hand, he was not a member of any one student clique. On the other, he would’ve been enthusiastically welcomed by any social grouping of students on campus. If you think about it, it makes sense that someone who avoided cliques might well be loved and respected by all. That was Ben.
Second, he had an uncanny ability to be simultaneously respectful and irreverent. The two photographs presented in the program celebrating his life clearly show both these sides. The formal is pictured at the top of this post; here is the flip side:
Hey, you really couldn’t stay mad at him!
Third, similarly, he was a committed and accomplished athlete. However, we’ve had lots of those at Hyde. Ben’s athletic persona was unique in that he also realized that the outcome of a particular game – win or lose – signaled neither the beginning nor the end of the world. I will long remember him shooting an air ball at the foul line during a critical point in a game. At first, he strained to maintain a serious face. A split-second later he broke into a wide grin, as if to remind all of us that it’s only a game. A minute later his expression was once again all business. In any case, as far as the photo below is concerned, I’m not sure if Ben was being respectful or irreverent.
Those of us who have spent lifetimes in schools share a code when it comes to praise. There is no praise higher than being referred to as “a great kid.” This accolade does not require a young man or woman to be bright in the classroom, gifted on the athletic field, or superlative in some extracurricular activity. Great kids tend to make the most of whatever gifts they happen to bring to the table and they tend to do so with an extra touch of an indefinable mixture of enthusiasm, style, and respect. While Ben may have crossed over into manhood, we teachers often hold our students fixed in our memories as the teenagers they were when they were in our daily midst. I confidently speak for all Hyde teachers when I describe Ben Burlock as “a great kid.” I know I will always remember that.