12/18/2014 10:46 am ET Updated Feb 17, 2015

Three Wise Men (And Women)

My teacher is leaving. We had a meeting on a chilly Friday afternoon, and we talked about my plans for the coming semester and the research we were working on, and the Monday after he sent me an email telling me that he would be gone come January. I was a wreck for a fair amount of time after that, and it was hard for me to figure out why -- professors come and go, and college is four short years of life and everyone and everything keeps moving forward.

But now I know. And maybe this is extrapolating too much and maybe this is finding connections that aren't there, but I visited my high school this afternoon and visited some of my old teachers, and we talked about my life in college and how my summer had gone and the weather up at Duke and how my sister is doing, because she's a senior in high school now and I see a lot of myself in her. And this is what I realized -- teachers have shaped so much of who I am and they have helped me find the person I want to be.

I first got interested in biology my freshman year of high school. The first day of class, I was sure that I was going to fail, because the teacher told us that thirty people drop her class every year because they can't handle it, and I thought, Well, I guess that'll be me. But my parents told me to stick it out, and as the year progressed I realized that biology had quickly become my favorite class. I also realized that I was somewhat good at it.

I'm a biology major now.

My junior year, I took AP US History and my teacher was one of the best lecturers I've ever had. He was funny and interesting and even today, I remember more United States history than anything else I learned in high school, because he had this way of making things just fascinating, from court cases to the Oneida community. And it wasn't just that he was good at teaching -- he was the type of person to organize after school study sessions and work with students individually, and we'd have conversations after class when I'd just sit there and talk about my life.

You get to a point in your life when you realize that teachers know their subjects, but they also know just about everything else. He was -- he still is -- a mentor and a friend.

My freshman year of college, I took a class about genomics and medicine. And remember -- I'm a freshman, so I am young and terrified and totally lost, and Duke has this program where you can take professors to lunch on Duke' dime and so I asked my professor to have lunch with me, and he insisted on paying for me and we spoke for over an hour about everything from classes to my hopes for the future.

I worked for him this past semester, and I was hoping to work for him for every semester from here on out. And when I declared my biology major, he offered to be my advisor. But now he's leaving. A large part of me is devastated, but the better part of me is happy for him, because he is going on to do bigger and better things.

And, of course, another part of me, the ruminative part of me, is why I'm writing this post. Because I think teachers are the best parts of society, and I know that I wouldn't be here without them. Because we hear a lot about the failures of the American education system and the flaws, but a system is made of people and let me tell you, there are some pretty amazing people out there.