We all have that one former teacher who really made an impact on our lives. Whether it’s from the lessons they taught or the encouragement they gave us, some teachers can leave a lasting impression on their students.
That was the case for one young woman who never forgot her teacher’s powerful words—and 20 years later, they took on an even more special meaning.
In 1997, Christin Gilmer was a 12-year-old sixth grade student from Yuma, Arizona. Her teacher was a woman named Judith Toensing.
Throughout the school year Ms. Toensing imparted unforgettable lessons on current events and human rights, which her young student took an immediate interest in.
At the end of the school year, Toensing wrote Gilmer an encouraging note that she would keep forever.
“It has been a joy to have you in class,” the teacher wrote. “Keep up the good work! Invite me to your Harvard graduation!”
The confidence Ms. Toensing had in her student’s future—that she might one day go on to Harvard—was very special to the young girl.
“It meant a lot to me to know that outside my mom, someone who knew me so intimately believed in my dreams and my ability to accomplish them,” Gilmer told CNN.
Over 20 years have passed, and Gilmer, now 33, still carries around that note—which has turned out to be remarkably prescient.
Gilmer went on to graduate from Harvard!
After receiving her master’s degree from Columbia University, Gilmer recently graduated from Harvard as a doctor of public health.
Before graduating, Gilmer wrote a thank you note on Facebook thanking her former teachers—particularly Ms. Toensing, whose class inspired her to pursue her field.
“[Ms. Toensing] taught me about current events, global health, and human rights,” Gilmer wrote. “She was the first person who passionately conveyed the plight of people living with HIV/AIDS to me.”
“She lit a fire in me that helping people is a powerful tool, and through education, you can better serve populations in need,” Gilmer told CNN. “I will never forget her passion for others.”
However, Gilmer didn’t just thank her former teacher—she made good on a request Toensing had all those years ago.
She invited the teacher to her Harvard graduation!
Harvard administrators heard of Gilmer’s story, and decided to invite Toensing to the ceremony at no cost.
Gilmer showed up to her former school to personally deliver the invitation. Toensing now teaches sixth and eighth grade social studies.
“Best teacher I’ve ever had, hands down,” she told Toensing’s current class.
But Toensing just knew that her student had it in her all along.
“I have high expectations of all my students, so to hear that Christin had achieved this goal did not surprise me in the least,” Toensing told CNN.
Toensing attended Gilmer’s Harvard graduation—and there was another surprise.
The dean of Harvard thanked Toensing in her speech!
Dean Michelle Williams recounted the story of Toensing’s note to Gilmer, and thanked her—and all teachers—for their inspiration.
“It is a special privilege to welcome Mrs. Toensing here today to watch [Gilmer] cross the stage,” Williams said.
“You don’t just teach young people. You inspire them, and you propel them along a path of fulfillment and service to others. Your work is what makes our work possible. Thank you for everything you do, and please keep sending students our way!”
Gilmer says she hopes to return to Arizona to “work in health, politics, and community development.”
And her teacher, who correctly called her future back in sixth grade, still has high hopes for her student.
“She has many more miles to go, I know with her tenacity, her dedication, and her passion for helping humanity, she will be highly successful and that we will all be the better for knowing her,” Toensing told CNN.
“I feel honored that Harvard chose to tell Christin’s story, her journey, and that I was a small part of that journey.”