I met J. when I was a grad student. He was a student in one of the language classes where I was a TA. He was a first generation college student. No father, and a mother that always encouraged his dreams and the beliefs that he was as good as anybody else. He had an incredible talent for languages. We quickly became good friends. J. was very smart, but he was also lazy. He went on to major in Spanish (and another major and a minor), and his grades were not as good as they could be, because he just thought that his talent for languages would instantly give him an A. It wasn't like that, obviously.
After we both graduated, we stayed in touch, although not as often as usual. He had always wanted to to a Master in Middle Eastern studies. I told him at the time that I thought he had the capacity to do the Master, but that it wasn't a good idea at the time, because he didn't have the drive. He listened. His first year out of school, he took a bunch of random jobs. His second year, he got a job he liked more, and stayed there for a year and a half. A few years ago, he called me and said he was ready to apply for a Masters. That as much as he liked his job, he now realized he wanted to be in a classroom, learning, and that my advice had help him put in the right mindset. He applied, and got accepted at American University in Cairo. Last Monday, he started posting video of demonstrations in Egypt on Facebook. Then, no news. I called his mom, he is OK. He can only call from a landline phone, since cell phones and internet are out in Egypt. He is also impressed. He is watching history. And I feel like I helped a little make it come true.
Sometimes, teaching has its rewards.