Writing a letter of recommendation is usually an ordinary experience, but there are times when writing such a letter can become a tar pit of emotion and psychic distress. You feel suspended in amber as you search for the right phrase to recommend a person who deserves no recognition. Are you required — by moral pitch or professional bitumen — to write a letter of recommendation even if that person did not live up to your expectation or the requirements of the task?

Can you be sued if you offer a negative opinion instead of mere facts of the person you are “recommending?” Is it best to tell someone, “Look, you don’t really want me to write you a letter, do you?” instead of just writing a generic letter that will help no one?

Does refusing to write a letter unfairly mark you as unwilling and unhelpful? Is your reputation at stake if you write a letter knowing the person in question is not of one of merit or is there an expectation in the Letter of Recommendation World that generic phrases like “hard worker” “good person” and “well-intentioned” are cue words you do not strongly believe in the person you are recommending?

How do you best handle a letter of recommendation request do you not wish to write? Have you asked someone to write you a letter to only later discover that person gave you a negative review that was in no way a recommendation?

Did you confront your letter writer or did you release the impulse for revenge? Do you prefer to write a letter that must remain private or do you not mind having the person you are recommending to later gain access to the letter?

36 Comments

  1. Oh, and I forgot to mention it’s funny how more things today require a letter of recommendation — on the YES Network (Yankees Baseball and Nets basketball):
    http://www.yesnetwork.com/
    They are looking for “actors” to be on a 7 month long roadtrip show following the Yankees during their 162 game season. It sounds like a lot of fun.
    You have to go the casting call and they want two letters or recommendation! I’ve never before heard of letters being required for an audition.
    What’s next?
    If you want to pay your gas bill in person be sure you have three current letters of recommendation in your pocket? 😆

  2. I’ve had to ask for letters of recommendation at various times in my life. I always asked people that I knew would give me a good recommendation to write letters. When I was in school, the letters of recommendation were often address “To Whom It May Concern” and I sent a copy. That way, the author didn’t need to write multiple letters. Later on, when I needed letters for professional reasons, I asked people who knew me well and with whom I had had a good working relationship.
    I’ve never had a letter of recommendation that I haven’t been able to read. Even if the letter is to be sent separately, I’ve always received a courtesy copy for my file from its author.
    If someone asks for a letter of recommendation and they are a poor candidate, it does reflect badly on the person doing the recommendation. If someone wrote a letter praising someone who turned out to be unqualified, it would hurt their future credibility.
    One would think that someone needing a letter of recommendation would play to his or her strengths and not ask someone who might write a letter that could hurt them. A luke-warm recommendation is probably as bad as a negative one, especially when there is a lot of competition for a job.
    I assume that a generic letter that states that someone worked for a certain period of time and did certain job assignments sends a message to the interviewers. A letter praising a candidate sends another message.
    My dad has been asked to write letters of recommendation for people during the course of his career. He told me that he tells each person that their future performance is a reflection on him, so they better do the best job they can. I didn’t ask him if he ever refuses to write letters, but I assume he’d probably say “no” if it was appropriate.

  3. Chris!
    It’s interesting now that many universities and jobs will not accept “To Whom it May Concern” letters. They want to feel special so they require letters addressed in their name and specific questions be addressed that they uniquely ask on their special form. That may make the institution feel better, but for the letter writers it adds an extra layer of harassment!
    That “us only” sort of letter also discounts the ability for students or job seekers to use a service like Interfolio:
    http://www.interfolio.com
    Where you can request letters and documents once and have them stored securely online and mailed out as wished. That kind of generic dated letter was fine in the past but now institutions will not accept such a blanket method of referral.
    Most institutions value private letters that the one written about can never view. They believe the letter writer will be more honest and the one being written about must waive their right to access the letter before the letter is written and sent off to the institution.
    I agree not writing a letter is the way to go if you don’t believe in the person. Some students, however, are so desperate that they will place tremendous pressure on certain well-known professors to beg a letter from them even if it isn’t a rave…

  4. I have to write letters all the time. I can’t turn anyone down because I am often the person of last resort. People expect a letter the next day. That always causes problems and results in a tepid letter. I think these letters have less and less weight as they are required more and more.

  5. Hi Anne!
    I understand writing letters can quickly become a burdensome part of a job. It’s a good thing people can rely on you as a letter writer. I’m sure after a time the process becomes boilerplate and that can, indeed, make the whole letters process a big bore for those requiring the letters.
    I, too, enjoy the online services. They are quick and efficient and you can really go to town on getting a lot of letters done at once if everyone is on the same system.

  6. The freaky thing happens when someone you haven’t seen for five years suddenly shows up demanding a letter. You don’t remember them and they are obviously stressed and desperate because to go back five years to get a letter from a person you didn’t know well back then is a lot to ask. I always try to help if I can.

  7. I had a student from three years ago approach me for a letter for law school. The student asked on a Thursday night for a Friday morning deadline. I did not remember this student or remember the performance or grade earned. I knew the student was desperate but I had no time to deliver even a generic letter in that timeframe. I had to turn down the request.

  8. When I was out looking for letters as a young person I always hated it when the person I asked would say “sure” and then want me to write the letter that they would sign as if they wrote it.
    That happened a lot. Maybe it’s a Los Angeles thing.
    One guy was so overwhelmed with letter requests that he had an embosser with his name on it that he’d press into your blank stationery to show he “endorsed” the letter he signed but you wrote. It was a big joke.

  9. Heh!
    I love that “endorsed by, but not recommended by” story, Anne! That is a bit much and it’s a little creepy.
    I think an “embossed” letter would not have much resonance today. Letterhead is important. Thoughtful comments are important.
    I, too, have been asked to write my own letters in the past to then have the “recommender” sign my self-recommending letter. It may be more of an Arts thing than a Los Angeles thing! I always turned down that option.

  10. Letters are here to stay. I only hope we can use email in the future instead of letterhead and specific forms for specific schools. I hate writing out a recommendation in longhand. Typing is so much quicker.

  11. I’m with you on using email, Anne!
    It also seems the length of the forms is increasing as is the overall number of letters required. It used to be one letter was enough, then two, then three and now I’ve seen FIVE letters required for a single applicant. It’s madness I say!
    😀

  12. I’ve always left my jobs on good terms. In fact, I had to contact my old employer about something and they asked if I wanted to come back. Of course, I had to decline, but it was nice that they asked.
    It’s too bad that letters of recommendation have to be customized to specific entities.
    I know that I’d hate to have to continually ask former employers for new custom letters everytime one was required. Time is money in many places, and to take 15 to 30 minutes for a letter multiplied several times a day could be end up being a huge imposition.
    I feel for you, David, because I bet you get lots of requests for recommendation letters. Does the university do anything to assist you and other professors with the time and effort required to accomodate requests for recommendation letters?
    Here’s another type of recommendation “letter” that’s interesting — The character and fitness verification form for reciprocal admissions to the Illinois Bar. https://www.ibaby.org/forms/reciprocal_admission/RECIP_Char_Ver.pdf

  13. Chris!
    I love it you were asked back to your old employer! That must have made you feel grand!
    Yes, the letter of recommendation customization is really getting out of hand much like the Illinois Bar link you provide! Can you imagine having to fill out 100 of those a semester! Yikes! It would be impossible for anyone.
    Going back again and again to a certain recommender is a big problem. Even in the Age of Computers where you think writing it once would enable you to use the recommendation again and again just by filling in a new address… but the new specificity doesn’t allow much of that to happen. I have seen some recommenders take that special form and write on it, “see attached letter” — I think that would tick off the institution more than it would make the recommenders life easier…
    We get no accommodation from the university in dealing with these letters — it is expected of us. The university provides letterhead and they pay the postage. The rest is up to us as we do the dirty work of actually writing it all out. It isn’t too bad, but when adjuncts are more sought after than the full time faculty you know something is askew somewhere!
    Expecting adjuncts to write letters is a bit unfair because we don’t get paid for doing it and the full time faculty often provides more weight in a recommendation for another institution but students don’t see it that way.
    Some adjuncts refuse to write letters and direct the students to the full time faculty instead.
    We like to try to think of our students as our “students forever” — but some students abuse that philosophy by never “going away” and always hanging around for 10-20 years asking for favors and letters and feedback on their work…

  14. Tricky subject!
    I personally believe that if you don’t believe in the person who’s asked you to write a letter of recommendation, then don’t do it!
    The reason? Simple!
    You don’t believe in their skills, then you can’t write about how good they were at certain said tasks. If they were late all the time, then you can’t write about how punctual they were.
    In short, you can’t send out a false message, it gives whoever is reading the letter a false image and it reflects badly on you when that bubble is burst. At the end of the day, is the letter of recommendation more important than your reputation as a professional?
    Not something I’d want to risk for sure.

  15. Tricky subject!
    I personally believe that if you don’t believe in the person who’s asked you to write a letter of recommendation, then don’t do it!
    The reason? Simple!
    You don’t believe in their skills, then you can’t write about how good they were at certain said tasks. If they were late all the time, then you can’t write about how punctual they were.
    In short, you can’t send out a false message, it gives whoever is reading the letter a false image and it reflects badly on you when that bubble is burst. At the end of the day, is the letter of recommendation more important than your reputation as a professional?
    Not something I’d want to risk for sure.

  16. Hi Dawn!
    Yeah, it can be tricky. The really awful students usually don’t need recommendations because they don’t have that kind of aspiration or they know you will not be able to give them a good enough letter to make the request worth their while.
    The tricky comes in the middling student — neither early or nor late, neither excellent not awful — that never really did anything but the required minimum. It’s like trying to color a grey and black image with something other than white or black — there isn’t any room for adding extra hue or tone to embellish the recommendation. It’s hard to turn down those students because you have no real reason to turn them down except to say they were boring or colorless or they did nothing but what was required. Probably 70% of the recommendations I write fall into the category of the bland and uninspired.

  17. Hi Dawn!
    Yeah, it can be tricky. The really awful students usually don’t need recommendations because they don’t have that kind of aspiration or they know you will not be able to give them a good enough letter to make the request worth their while.
    The tricky comes in the middling student — neither early or nor late, neither excellent not awful — that never really did anything but the required minimum. It’s like trying to color a grey and black image with something other than white or black — there isn’t any room for adding extra hue or tone to embellish the recommendation. It’s hard to turn down those students because you have no real reason to turn them down except to say they were boring or colorless or they did nothing but what was required. Probably 70% of the recommendations I write fall into the category of the bland and uninspired.

  18. Hi
    Delurking to put in my two bits worth. I have been told over and over (at this university) that letters of recommendation are NOT private, but can be requested by the subject at any time. They may do it for curiosity, but more likely it will be to provide ammo for unfair hiring practices. Hence, NEVER put anything in writing that you cannot substantiate. You can reference a job duty (“ability to communicate well with others”) and then state that the subject failed to do this, IF and this is a big if, you have documentation in his/her file that this duty was not performed satisfactorly, and that said failure was communicated to the subject. Thus, the most common result is the lukewarm letter, communicating more by what is NOT said rather than by what was said. And of course, telephone conversations (assuming they are not recorded) allows the opportunity to let it all hang out, as anything so related becomes hearsay when recounted. I, for one, am glad to have had the opportunity to review any letters written for me. I remember one memorable one from a professor whom I thought considered me one of his best students, who wrote a very poor letter when I applied elsewhere for graduate school, evidently in pique. I would otherwise never have known why I wasn’t accepted. Hiring practices (especially for govt. related positions) are and should be open to scrutiny from all parties.
    Enjoy your blog enormously….Marilyn

  19. Hi
    Delurking to put in my two bits worth. I have been told over and over (at this university) that letters of recommendation are NOT private, but can be requested by the subject at any time. They may do it for curiosity, but more likely it will be to provide ammo for unfair hiring practices. Hence, NEVER put anything in writing that you cannot substantiate. You can reference a job duty (“ability to communicate well with others”) and then state that the subject failed to do this, IF and this is a big if, you have documentation in his/her file that this duty was not performed satisfactorly, and that said failure was communicated to the subject. Thus, the most common result is the lukewarm letter, communicating more by what is NOT said rather than by what was said. And of course, telephone conversations (assuming they are not recorded) allows the opportunity to let it all hang out, as anything so related becomes hearsay when recounted. I, for one, am glad to have had the opportunity to review any letters written for me. I remember one memorable one from a professor whom I thought considered me one of his best students, who wrote a very poor letter when I applied elsewhere for graduate school, evidently in pique. I would otherwise never have known why I wasn’t accepted. Hiring practices (especially for govt. related positions) are and should be open to scrutiny from all parties.
    Enjoy your blog enormously….Marilyn

  20. Hi Marilyn!
    Thanks for delurking and please become a regular commenter here! We appreciate your keen insight and beautiful rendering of a serious problem. Thanks for the wonderful compliment!
    In the letters of recommendation requirements I’ve seen from NYU and Columbia and other institutions on the East Coast, the person asking for the recommendation MUST check a box saying the recommendation is either private or accessible to them and sign it and the default is accessible if no box is checked.
    When a recommender sees the recommendation is not private a verifiable change occurs and instead of a beautiful and poetic recommendation, the recommender creates a generic letter that disallows the opportunity for misinterpretation. The best letters, I know, are those marked private by the one asking for the recommendation.
    I’m sorry you had to learn that what you thought was a supporter turned out to be a bit of a betrayer!

  21. Hi Marilyn!
    Thanks for delurking and please become a regular commenter here! We appreciate your keen insight and beautiful rendering of a serious problem. Thanks for the wonderful compliment!
    In the letters of recommendation requirements I’ve seen from NYU and Columbia and other institutions on the East Coast, the person asking for the recommendation MUST check a box saying the recommendation is either private or accessible to them and sign it and the default is accessible if no box is checked.
    When a recommender sees the recommendation is not private a verifiable change occurs and instead of a beautiful and poetic recommendation, the recommender creates a generic letter that disallows the opportunity for misinterpretation. The best letters, I know, are those marked private by the one asking for the recommendation.
    I’m sorry you had to learn that what you thought was a supporter turned out to be a bit of a betrayer!

  22. I turn down requests. Probably 35%. I value my reputation and when I write a letter I am giving my stamp of approval. If someone doesn’t meet up my expecation I won’t sign a letter.

  23. I turn down requests. Probably 35%. I value my reputation and when I write a letter I am giving my stamp of approval. If someone doesn’t meet up my expecation I won’t sign a letter.

  24. You make a good point, Xander!
    If someone always writes a letter no matter the quality of the person then the recommender becomes diminished in the future and even the excellent student in the future may be harmed by the history of middling and lukewarm letters.

  25. You make a good point, Xander!
    If someone always writes a letter no matter the quality of the person then the recommender becomes diminished in the future and even the excellent student in the future may be harmed by the history of middling and lukewarm letters.

  26. I recently requested letters in support of my graduate applications and am well acquainted with two professors who regularly write letters but approach the process with very different styles. My own process was straight-forward, though I was published with two of the recommenders and have worked closely with the third. There was no doubt they they would be able to write a strong letter on my behalf. Two of them asked for a CV and a draft of my personal statement as they were not familar with my reasons for pursuiting graduate education and my research/education experience. Students are frequently rejected by faculty who feel that they are either unqualified and that they don’t know them well enough to offer a reccomendation. At a large university students rarely closely interact with faculty unless they pursuit extra-curricular research or attend smaller seminars. It can be difficult to develop the personal connection with a faculty member that is needed for them to write a meaningful, supportive letter that goes beyond generic details and relates their opinion of qualifications in the context of your personality and life situation. I think generic letters do letter to support your application and may even detract as they indicate that you have not made sufficient effort to connect with faculty. Even a mediocre candidate (as indicated by grades, test scores…) can receive a positive, supportive letter if they make a meaningful connection with a faculty member. I think that is the obligation of reccomenders to inform a candidate when they feel that they are unable to write a strong letter. It a considerable favor on behalf of the candidate and its completion should not be expected a priori by the canditate. In graduate applications the amount of work required by recommenders is unfortunately increasing as applications become increasingly electronic. UC Berkeley has a letter service for students. Faculty send a single sealed letter to the letter service and then the service makes official photocopies and send them to the insitutions that the student indicates. Faculty letter writers send once and forget about it. In the new model, faculty must upload their letter in response to an email for each institution the student is applying for. The applications are far from standardized and can be confusing to figure out what types of documents are expected and how to upload them. Furthermore, the requests sent out by the applications often get buried in the voluminous inboxes of most faculty. As for privacy, each letter whether online or paper is accompanied by a statement from the student indicating whether they choose to waive their rights to access letters of reccomendation as guaranteed by the Federal Education and Privact Act of 1974. Most people on admissions comittees that I have consider private letters more strongly as they allow the letter writer more freedom to indicate their true appraisly without fear of retribution from the student. I felt no need to see them and Im not sure what anyone would gain by seeing them.
    One of the faculty that I know who writes letters reguarly takes the unfornate tact already mentioned of making people write letters for themselves and then signing them. In my mind this is tactless and rather crass. It says ‘Im too f’ing busy to give a shit about you, so sorry’. If you care about your profession why would you not want to take the time to ensure that candidates with potential gain a boost in acheiving their aspirations? Nobody is that busy, its just plain rude. I can understand that letter writers sometimes feel put on the spot by a request, however nothing percludes them from asking for a bit of time to consider the request before answering. This allows the reccomender to consider their relationship with the candidate the whether their qualifications merit a letter.
    The other faculty member I know write large numbers of letters. He tries to be sincere and positive, though he has complained in a number of instances about feeling forced to write a letter for a less than stellar candidate. He feels an obligation to compensate for overly harsh faculty who will only write letters for the best candidates.
    Surely a healthy balance must exist between the two styles. There is much expectation on the part of the reccomendee to receive a strong, supportive letter. Similarly there is expectation of the part of the reccomender to oblige the request. It can become an emotion driven process rather than one based on the relationship between the writer and candidate, and the qualifications of the candidate. At least in the academic setting the whole process is a bit of delicate dance with both parties trying not to offend the other but little communication occuring besides communicating the direct need of a letter. Communication about the process and openness on both sides would go a long way in making the process more fair and manageable. Dispelling some of the mystery for students might reduce their anxiety and expectations.

  27. I recently requested letters in support of my graduate applications and am well acquainted with two professors who regularly write letters but approach the process with very different styles. My own process was straight-forward, though I was published with two of the recommenders and have worked closely with the third. There was no doubt they they would be able to write a strong letter on my behalf. Two of them asked for a CV and a draft of my personal statement as they were not familar with my reasons for pursuiting graduate education and my research/education experience. Students are frequently rejected by faculty who feel that they are either unqualified and that they don’t know them well enough to offer a reccomendation. At a large university students rarely closely interact with faculty unless they pursuit extra-curricular research or attend smaller seminars. It can be difficult to develop the personal connection with a faculty member that is needed for them to write a meaningful, supportive letter that goes beyond generic details and relates their opinion of qualifications in the context of your personality and life situation. I think generic letters do letter to support your application and may even detract as they indicate that you have not made sufficient effort to connect with faculty. Even a mediocre candidate (as indicated by grades, test scores…) can receive a positive, supportive letter if they make a meaningful connection with a faculty member. I think that is the obligation of reccomenders to inform a candidate when they feel that they are unable to write a strong letter. It a considerable favor on behalf of the candidate and its completion should not be expected a priori by the canditate. In graduate applications the amount of work required by recommenders is unfortunately increasing as applications become increasingly electronic. UC Berkeley has a letter service for students. Faculty send a single sealed letter to the letter service and then the service makes official photocopies and send them to the insitutions that the student indicates. Faculty letter writers send once and forget about it. In the new model, faculty must upload their letter in response to an email for each institution the student is applying for. The applications are far from standardized and can be confusing to figure out what types of documents are expected and how to upload them. Furthermore, the requests sent out by the applications often get buried in the voluminous inboxes of most faculty. As for privacy, each letter whether online or paper is accompanied by a statement from the student indicating whether they choose to waive their rights to access letters of reccomendation as guaranteed by the Federal Education and Privact Act of 1974. Most people on admissions comittees that I have consider private letters more strongly as they allow the letter writer more freedom to indicate their true appraisly without fear of retribution from the student. I felt no need to see them and Im not sure what anyone would gain by seeing them.
    One of the faculty that I know who writes letters reguarly takes the unfornate tact already mentioned of making people write letters for themselves and then signing them. In my mind this is tactless and rather crass. It says ‘Im too f’ing busy to give a shit about you, so sorry’. If you care about your profession why would you not want to take the time to ensure that candidates with potential gain a boost in acheiving their aspirations? Nobody is that busy, its just plain rude. I can understand that letter writers sometimes feel put on the spot by a request, however nothing percludes them from asking for a bit of time to consider the request before answering. This allows the reccomender to consider their relationship with the candidate the whether their qualifications merit a letter.
    The other faculty member I know write large numbers of letters. He tries to be sincere and positive, though he has complained in a number of instances about feeling forced to write a letter for a less than stellar candidate. He feels an obligation to compensate for overly harsh faculty who will only write letters for the best candidates.
    Surely a healthy balance must exist between the two styles. There is much expectation on the part of the reccomendee to receive a strong, supportive letter. Similarly there is expectation of the part of the reccomender to oblige the request. It can become an emotion driven process rather than one based on the relationship between the writer and candidate, and the qualifications of the candidate. At least in the academic setting the whole process is a bit of delicate dance with both parties trying not to offend the other but little communication occuring besides communicating the direct need of a letter. Communication about the process and openness on both sides would go a long way in making the process more fair and manageable. Dispelling some of the mystery for students might reduce their anxiety and expectations.

  28. Hi Jonathan!
    I appreciate your “in the moment” response to the letters issue and your real world experience brings home how much of the process has changed in just the last few years.
    I agree forcing students to write their own letters is crass.
    The stellar students – like you — will get in no matter what. A phone call from one faculty member to another can make that happen and a letter helps but doesn’t make a difference. Letters for stellar students are also easy to write because you just sit back and let it flow…
    I remember one student who was applying to medical school. She was in an introductory theatre class of mine. She spent most of her life out of school working at a Greek diner in New Jersey. She had never been to a Broadway show even though NYC was half an hour away. She was required to see a show on Broadway for my class and she loved every moment of the experience and, from then on, she went to a show every other weekend.
    She was incredibly intelligent. She had never read a play before or thought about the theatre much.
    I thought it was strange she wanted a letter from me in anticipation of medical school, but her advisor said to pick the three instructors who made the biggest difference in her life — it didn’t matter who they were or what they taught — the only thing that mattered was the connection to learning and understanding the world in a new way.
    I was honored to write her a letter.
    I explained in the letter how, during our essay exams she would sit in the front row, contemplate the question for a long time, take off her glasses and stare into space and call up a visible, rumbling, energy and an insight from deep within her — you could feel the energy pouring out of her mind — as she fought to find, create and make deep connections between the plays, human existence, and how everything fit into the plan of life.
    Then, she started writing her answer and there was a magic and a specificity of purpose in that process that I have rarely seen: Raw Intellect Exploding into Brilliance. It was like watching a nuclear reaction – a new life creation — happening right before my eyes.
    When I read her exam later I cried a little — it was beautiful and passionate and she taught me more than I ever taught her in class. Her gift was taking something new and making it new again for old eyes that thought they knew what they’d been reading for 30 years. That sort of student comes along once — twice if you’re lucky — in a teaching career.
    The world will be a better place with her as a doctor.

  29. Hi Jonathan!
    I appreciate your “in the moment” response to the letters issue and your real world experience brings home how much of the process has changed in just the last few years.
    I agree forcing students to write their own letters is crass.
    The stellar students – like you — will get in no matter what. A phone call from one faculty member to another can make that happen and a letter helps but doesn’t make a difference. Letters for stellar students are also easy to write because you just sit back and let it flow…
    I remember one student who was applying to medical school. She was in an introductory theatre class of mine. She spent most of her life out of school working at a Greek diner in New Jersey. She had never been to a Broadway show even though NYC was half an hour away. She was required to see a show on Broadway for my class and she loved every moment of the experience and, from then on, she went to a show every other weekend.
    She was incredibly intelligent. She had never read a play before or thought about the theatre much.
    I thought it was strange she wanted a letter from me in anticipation of medical school, but her advisor said to pick the three instructors who made the biggest difference in her life — it didn’t matter who they were or what they taught — the only thing that mattered was the connection to learning and understanding the world in a new way.
    I was honored to write her a letter.
    I explained in the letter how, during our essay exams she would sit in the front row, contemplate the question for a long time, take off her glasses and stare into space and call up a visible, rumbling, energy and an insight from deep within her — you could feel the energy pouring out of her mind — as she fought to find, create and make deep connections between the plays, human existence, and how everything fit into the plan of life.
    Then, she started writing her answer and there was a magic and a specificity of purpose in that process that I have rarely seen: Raw Intellect Exploding into Brilliance. It was like watching a nuclear reaction – a new life creation — happening right before my eyes.
    When I read her exam later I cried a little — it was beautiful and passionate and she taught me more than I ever taught her in class. Her gift was taking something new and making it new again for old eyes that thought they knew what they’d been reading for 30 years. That sort of student comes along once — twice if you’re lucky — in a teaching career.
    The world will be a better place with her as a doctor.