There are many things I wish to block out of my memory when I recall my times as a sixth-grader at Pequannock Valley Middle School: the highly exclusive cliques that instigated and perpetuated gossip, the incessant schvitzing due to the lack of air-conditioning in all of the classrooms, and, of course, the awkwardness and self-consciousness that is often attached to the 13-year-old experience. Despite these—shall I say grievances—there are countless moments I look back upon fondly, many of which occurred in the classroom. One such memory that I recently found myself reliving was the last day of sixth grade, in Mr. Danziger’s science class. I remember it vividly: standing in front of the classroom, Mr. Danziger invited all of his former, current, and future students to join him in South Carolina in the summer of 2017 to experience a solar eclipse in the path of totality. To him, it was the ultimate out-of-classroom experience. And to me? What can I say, it was the last day of sixth grade: the ending of what had been a socially-tortuous (albeit academically-invigorating) school year, so his enthusiasm towards an event that was set to occur almost ten years in the future was partially eclipsed by my eagerness for summer vacation.
Fast-forward to the beginning of August this year, and Mr. Danziger’s invitation to join him down south continued to resurface from the deepest parts of my hippocampus. It was not possible for me to travel to see the phenomena, though I was intrigued and nostalgic and I longed to talk to someone who would get to experience a total solar eclipse. I perused my old middle school website and was pleased to know that Mr. Danziger was still teaching sixth-grade science and that I could very quickly access his email.
My email to him was brief: I re-introduced myself, asked him what his plans were for the 2017 Solar Eclipse, informed him I’d be graduating Stevens with a Chemical Biology degree in May, and thanked him for instilling a wonder and appreciation for science within me during my sixth-grade year—that part is very much the truth. I had doubts that he’d respond to me given we were still in summer vacation, but to my surprise, he returned my email several days later. His email was more than I expected, but what bewildered me more was that I, among all of his students in all of his years, was the only person to ever contact him about the eclipse, let alone express an interest in going. He went on further to explain that he was not going to travel this year given the sheer number of people that were expected to travel to the path of totality and instead would wait until the 2024 eclipse, calculated to be a bit closer to New Jersey.
To be quite honest, I was saddened by the fact that none of his students ever contacted him about it. Perhaps other students of his had in fact been interested and traveled to the 70-mile wide strip spanning across the contiguous United States to watch the moon traipse slowly within the sun’s path; better yet, maybe one of his students now worked for NASA or an aerospace engineering firm. But perhaps that’s one of the downsides of being a teacher—like my former high school biology teacher once wrote to me, “I often feel that the greatest shortcoming of the profession is not knowing what the next chapter in a student’s life is going to be.”
Despite all of these thoughts, the Solar Eclipse was a glorious sight (with the right eye protection, of course). But its highly-anticipated arrival evoked a sense of appreciation within me for all those who have contributed to my education. Just like Mr. Danziger invited me and my classmates to join him in this momentous viewing, I invite you—with whatever little authority I have—to think back to someone who might have made an impression on you, however big or small. Email them, stop by their classroom when you’re home, and maybe grab lunch. I’ve learned that eclipsing our memories for fear of “living in the past” needn’t be the case. Besides, the moon is much better at that than us anyway.