A word introduced in the god-forsaken Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace. If you can survive Jar-Jar Binks assaulting your senses, you will encounter this new word, coined to describe a Jedi Knight’s apprentice. I never thought I’d be living out the reality of this word to such an enormous extent.
Padawans. Yes, I have them. Various minions, apprentices, followers…it seems to be the lot of a teacher (especially an emperor of the geeks, like me), to find a collection of students that eventually latch on to you and find a connection. Whether it’s through academics, geeky passions, or intellectual compatibility…there’s a group of young men and women out there who have made quite the impact on me. They’re more than my students. I’ve become their mentors, their advisors…even their friends. Some of them I consider family. They’ve been there for me in some of my happiest moments…and many of them have been rocks when I passed through the bleakest of times.
I was just thinking about some of them in particular, out there in the big wide world. I read on the twitter feed of one of my padawans that he was turning 28 this year. Good lord, where has the time gone? Perhaps it’s a stupid question, after 14 years in the teaching game…but…wow.
Today I’m feeling particularly ancient and brittle. Tired from the battering of the most trivial, mundane aspects of existence. But then I think about some of my apprentices, and how they’ve gone on to make lives for themselves…and it doesn’t seem quite so bad to be an aging mentor.
I can think of two of my young apprentices at this moment, who are making careers for themselves in the business world…both of them still happy to discuss politics & literature with me at the drop of a hat…and one of them who still refers to me as “general”.
I think of another, making his way through the hierarchy of the Liberal Party at an exponential pace…and continue to wonder at just how much of me I see in him. That is, when I’m not rendered breathless by the scope of his own achievements.
Another padawan is somewhere in the depths of a university teaching hospital in the United States…and I’m wondering if I’ve helped to influence someone who will find the cure to…something…one day. Knowing him as I do, I wouldn’t put such an achievement outside his grasp…not for one moment.
I think of two brothers — so very different, yet so very similar — and how they so easily put a smile on my face…with wits so dry that you could use them as sand paper. One is now a teacher after my own heart, paying it forward & making the old man proud. The other absorbs any and all wisdom I have to share, with unquenchable energy & enthusiasm. Both of them are endlessly invigorating to my mind and my spirit.
And somewhere out there, amongst all the other padawans and apprentices, is Padawan 1.0 — working in the world of silicon, electrons, and software code. A grown, recently-married man who will one day make a great father…but someone I still remember as a fresh-faced, wry young man tentatively setting foot in my classroom for the first time. The first student with whom I truly developed a life-long bond…and I couldn’t begin to thank him for becoming such an integral part of my life.
I don’t think any of these padawans of mine realize just how much they’ve impacted my life…but I want them to know how grateful I am to all of them. I look at all of them, and I see a future that actually looks promising and bright…and I see that some of what I am, and what I do, isn’t entirely in vain.
So, Mr. George Lucas, you may have damned the English language with many of your vocabulary additions — and seared our retinas with your insidious prequels — but I’ve done my best to put a positive spin on one particular word. It’s been a pleasure.