After class, alone in my classroom, Mark and I faced one another.
His eyes focused toward the floor. He would not look at me as I spoke. His hat, the symbol of his defiance, still sat securely
on his head.
“Mark,” I said softly, “you must follow
the rules of this class. Removing your hat demonstrates respect. Is there a reason you feel you must wear your hat? I am willing
Mark lifted his eyes and looked into mine. “No,”
he answered. His look was empty. His tone was flat.
“Then you must remove it,” I answered in my most
professorial voice. He did as I asked.
At that moment I saw my challenge with this young man. He
complied in removing his hat but I had not reached him. I had forced him but I had not persuaded him.
Slowly throughout the semester, I felt a bond growing between
Mark and me.
Sometimes he would even smile at my jokes and ask thoughtful
questions in class. When I saw him in the hall, he would tip his hat. I would not let him see me smile at that obvious gesture.
The final week of the semester Mark asked me to stay after
class. He had something to tell me which he had kept secret.
I had come to know him as a gifted poet and hard working writer
and speaker, harder than most perhaps because Mark suffered from MS which had affected his coordination and vocal cords. Some
days the class and I understood him better than others.
“Do you remember the first day of class when I refused
to remove my hat?” he asked. “Oh yes I do,” I answered. “Well, now I would like to tell you why I
“About a year ago I went to an open mic forum to read
my poetry. They laughed at me.” “They what?” I asked not wanting to believe what I was hearing.
His speech was laboured and painfully slow. “I was humiliated.”
Once again like that first day of class we were alone in my
classroom. We looked at one another through our tears.