It’s recommendation season, and I’m swamped with letters to write. In general, I like writing these letters about as much as I like grading (ugh!). It’s not a genre of writing that we’re really trained in. Plus, sometimes I end up writing letters for students that I’m not totally behind, which is difficult, since I don’t want to lie and say a student is wonderful if I really think that s/he is only mediocre. But I’m a sucker that way; I find it difficult to say no, especially if I feel that I’m someone’s last resort.

But this year is different. All of the people I’m writing for — 3 MA or former MA students and 5 or 6 undergraduates — are all students I believe in, which perhaps makes it all the more difficult. I want to write them each the best letter I can, because I really think they deserve to go on to a graduate program. I certainly don’t want to be the reason one of them doesn’t get to do what s/he wants to do.

As I write these particular letters, however, I find myself getting into a funk, especially as I write some of the undergraduates’ recommendations. There’s a group of them that I’m really quite fond of, and now they’re all graduating. For the first time, I feel the cyclical nature of being a professor: every few years, a new crop of undergraduates show up, stick around for a while, and then graduate.

In the past, I’ve been fond of individual students. Jocelyn, for example, will always be my favorite, in part because she was my first favorite. (Plus, she’s one of the coolest people I’ve met!) And there was Angie and Mitch and Jenn and Erin and Amy. (I guess most of my favorites have been women.)

But this time, I’m fond of the group: Kerensa and Carl and Doug and Stephen and Wes and Matt (along with several individual ones). Kerensa and Carl have each taken three or four classes with me; Doug’s had two; we see Stephen regularly around campus; Wes housesits for us; and Matt seems to be involved in a series of photographs of him sleeping at our house during some of the times Wes is sitting. PJ and I have gone out with them for drinks once or twice, and I’ve danced with them at Casa. Heck, if I weren’t 15 years old than them, I’d want to hang out with them and join the group.

But I am 15 years older and I very much feel the distance between me-as-professor and the-group-as-students but not in a bad way. Other than during the occasional Casa dance, I don’t want to be 21 again; I’m happier with my life now than I have ever been before. But I can’t help but he a little saddened by my favorites leaving me.

Writing letters of recommendation is all about your students’ potential futures, so I find myself wondering how they’re each going to turn out. Will they become academics? Will they get married and have children? Will they live in big cities or in the middle of nowhere? Will they stay in touch with each other? I’m starting to see one of the joys of parenthood: watching as your children grow up. Obviously, none of these undergraduates is “my child,” but I can’t help but feel a little paternal, for lack of a better word, towards them.

I’ve kept in touch with only a small number of my former professors. I always felt weird about wanting to write them a letter or email every now and then, that I was imposing on them or something. Plus, it’s difficult sometimes to make the transition from being someone’s student to being their colleague/friend. Now I wish I had kept in touch with some of them, the late Stanley Archer in particular. I see now that keeping in touch with professors you like is important. I can’t say how happy I was that Jocelyn met me for a drink when she was in town. Maybe it’s just about ego, but it’s nice to know that someone you’re fond of wants to keep in touch and thinks of you as something other than “just” a professor.

I’m sure I’ll get a new crop of favorites soon, especially once I teach my gay lit course again. It’s hard not to fall in love with the glbts who take that class with me. But until then, I’m already starting to miss my current favorites and I doubt a new group can take their place. Oh well. If this is the worst part about being a professor, I really can’t complain! If nothing else, maybe this will spur me to make more of an effort to keep in touch with the people who have influenced me and affected my life’s direction in one way or another. I hope so.

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