I recently learned about the passing of my 5th grade elementary school teacher, Mrs. Carol Lowenthal. Although my final year of elementary school has (incredibly) been exactly a decade ago, the repercussions I have experienced as a result of having had Mrs. Lowenthal as a teacher remain to this day.
The last day of school is always bittersweet. While the exciting prospects of free days and fun times loom ahead, the regularity that one enjoys – including seeing friends on a daily basis and yes, even learning new material – comes to a close. On this day in Spring 2004, each of the students in my twenty-odd person class lined up to say our good-byes and receive a congratulatory hug from our teacher.
Following our own embrace, however, Mrs. Lowenthal paused and leaned in towards me and whispered, “Come see me in the fall so we can help prepare you for the Hunter test.”
What she was referring to was the entrance exam to Hunter College High School, an elite public high school located in New York, whose only route to admittance is a competitive test that students across the five boroughs take in the sixth grade (the school itself incorporates 7th and 8th grade levels, in addition to the traditional 9th- 12th grades). Thousands of students across the city are invited to take this test upon reaching the 90th percentile in the fifth grade in both the reading and math sections of the annual city-wide exam. I was one of those students.
At that particular point in time, however, I had heard very little about the school except for the stories that Mrs. Lowenthal had told of her son, who had been a student there.
With thousands of students taking the exam for an approximate 180 spots in the incoming 7th grade class, the competition is stiff – even fiercer than the admissions processes to some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the United States.
So, upon realizing the potential that Mrs. Lowenthal saw in me as a candidate for the Hunter exam, as well as her willingness to invest her own time and energy to help propel me forward, I was immediately awestruck. She was (and still remains to this day) one of the few people whom I maintain the utmost respect and admiration.
The guidance and instruction she gave me in the months leading up to the test were invaluable. More than providing me with simple test-taking tools, Mrs. Lowenthal passed on a trait that proved to be much more influential: the belief that against all odds, I could succeed. I have no doubt that it was through her support of me that I was not only able to simply pass the test, but also gain admittance to the school, as a member of the Class of 2011.
Now that she is gone, I remain forever grateful not only to have had her as a teacher, but also as a mentor. Her acuity to see the potential in my 10 year-old self is a trait to which I will always be indebted.
If there is anything that I can take away from the relationship I shared with her, it would be to advise current students to surround themselves with individuals who not only recognize them for who they are now, but rather, for what they can eventually achieve. I would not be the person I am today had it not been for her guidance and support during that critical point in my life. My hope would be that for all current students, no matter at which stage in their academic careers they find themselves in, to develop and nurture a relationship with someone who recognizes your potential and bears your best interests at heart. You never know how far they may eventually take you.
Caroline Herrmann is a junior at Duke University majoring in Cognitive Science and minoring in German Studies. She is working on a Markets & Management Studies certificate. Her goal is to attend business school and she would love to work in marketing or consulting in the United States or Europe. She was a part of the first Forté College Leadership Conference and can be found on Twitter at @caroooline717.