I cannot thank you enough for all that you taught me in school. Of course, you weren’t really my teacher, but as the Principal you were responsible for all of us, weren’t you?
You used to welcome us each year with the words, “You have to fight for your place in this world.” I heard that sentence every year for ten years under you. And sure enough, you made me a fighter. I fought for my marks like no other (you know how much difference 0.5% can make!). And I won most of my battles, albeit only in the classroom. I never learned a sport, Mr. Matthew. Sometimes I wished we had sports in school. You know…basketball, football, a running track perhaps. But that’s only sometimes. Mostly I’m glad that I could focus on studies. And I have you to thank for that.
I made it to Harvard, Mr. Matthew. I was an excellent student. All my submissions were on time, I obeyed my professors and knew my books cover to cover. But I struggled with the Music Appreciation class, Mr. Matthew. I had to take it as an elective course, and I struggled. I couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a book to study from, Mr. Matthew. What kind of frivolity was this? It was the only class I got a B in. But let bygones be bygones! I am writing to you today to thank you for all that you’ve done for me, Mr. Matthew.
One of the most important lessons you taught me was to respect my elders. I’m sure you knew this then, but I’ll say it again. We were all terrified of you. If Mr. Matthew walked your way, you moved out quickly. You never met his look. Never uttered a word beyond a greeting. Mr. Matthew was in charge. And we all knew that. So we respected you, you see. You were always inaccessible. Did I say inaccessible? I meant awe-inspiring, of course. There was never questioning your authority, Mr. Matthew. And we loved you for it. Today, I am the General Manager of a company, Mr. Matthew. I have 150 people working under me and I don’t let anyone get too close. You have to command respect. And discipline. I’m sure you agree.
I suddenly remembered something, Mr. Matthew. Prize Distribution Day in 1999. I was in the 9th grade and during rehearsals you had asked me to buy a new shirt for the big event. I didn’t listen to you (my mother said the old shirt was fine). The day after Prize Distribution, you called me to your office and caned me. It made me a better man, Mr. Matthew! I cried, I remember, but it made me stronger. And made me realize the value of discipline. Now, Mr. Matthew, I can proudly say that I have a disciplined boy of my own. He respects his elders, he shines his shoes and combs his hair and fights for his marks. He does his homework, doesn’t speak out of line and gets caned if he does. He is quite a fine, young lad, Mr. Matthew. You must meet him.
I talk to him about you a lot, Mr. Matthew. About the values you instilled in me. About the importance of marks and of prioritizing work over play; the respect for authority and the threat of punishment for indiscipline. All this made me a better man, Mr. Matthew. And now I want my son to learn from you. Will you admit him to your school, Mr. Matthew?
You see, I want him to grow up like me. And you can help him do that.
Your faithful student