Losing a Student
Given the number of students I teach every semester, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before now;. I meet, after all, an average of 90 new students twice a year (not including summer classes), and I’m in my fifth year doing this just at FAU, so it would seem likely that, at some point, one of my former students would die, but it was still a shock to open the announcements email and see that the university is lowering the flags to half-staff to memorialize his death, along with the deaths of two staff members.
I met Steve Joyner on the first day of classes on my second year at FAU. He sat in the very front of the class, and before class even began, he’d presented my with the longest Americans with Disabilities Act sheet I’ve still ever seen, along with a microphone I had to wear around my neck while I lectured. Steve had had brain cancer while he was an infant, and one of the resultant surgeries had included a cochlear implant. The microphone transmitted directly to his implant and made it possible for him to hear me.
After class, Steve stayed and told me his story. He wasn’t expected to survive into childhood from infancy, wasn’t expected to finish high school, wasn’t expected to be able to even enter college, and certainly not a traditional four-year university. He was very sure of himself, confident that he’d be able to handle the workload in my composition class, even though he often had to ask for clarification on individual issues.
Steve wasn’t the most gifted writer I’ve ever taught, but he was one of the hardest working. We worked on multiple drafts of each essay, slowly, teasing out arguments, cleaning up usage errors, massaging sentences for clarity. If memory serves, Steve earned some manner of B in that class, and he earned every point of it.
Steve was back in my class a year later, this time for second-year Interpretation of Poetry. He was more confident now, more willing to involve himself in class discussion and group work, but still just as hard-working on his essays.
After that, I’d see him occasionally on campus, between classes. I’d wave, like I often to do former students, sometimes chat for a moment. I’m at the point now with the numbers of people who’ve passed through my doors where I’ll remember faces but not names, or remember those facts but not which class they were in, or how long ago. It all blurs. Some of them are Facebook friends now, which shakes the memories even more. But Steve was one of those students who stuck. He was a special young person.