The latest update in my 6 month nostalgia tour, which has brought numerous old and dear friends back into my life, is the best update of all. I’ve mentioned before that I used to coach debate when I was in college. I coached at Okemos High School, just ten minutes or so from MSU. At our first organizational meeting, we had about 40 kids show up who wanted to join the debate team. By the second week, we were down to 5. By the second year, only two. See, I knew I was only going to be there for 2 or 3 years, so I wasn’t really concerned about building a long-term program. I didn’t have the time for that anyway. So I scared off all but the best students so I could just work with them, and those two were Robin Wall and Sam Nadler. And for the next two years, it was just the three of us traveling the country to tournaments.
A couple days ago, I decided that I was going to track the two of them down and get in touch with them. It took some searching. I knew that Robin had gone on to Stanford and Sam to MIT. I didn’t talk to Sam at all after he went off to college, and had only talked to Robin once, around 1995 or 1996. He had just gotten back from an extended time in Estonia teaching English after getting his degree from Stanford and was deciding what to do with his life after that. Well after a bit of searching, parsing textual clues and ruling out false tips (there was a Robin Wall Kimmerer who is apparently a prominent artist of some sort, and a Sam Nadler who teaches at West Virginia and each had numerous references to them on webpages as well), I managed to find them both and get their email addresses. I sent an email to both of them and got replies and we are now in the process of catching up on each other’s lives over the last 14 years.
For those of you who have never had the chance to mentor kids in some way (although hell, I was still a kid myself!), perhaps you can’t understand how exciting it is to see them grow up and become successful. I certainly didn’t fully appreciate at the time what an incredible gift it was for me to be able to spend 3 years working with these great kids. But now, looking back on it, I miss it very much, and I’ve missed them. And I’m so proud of what they’ve become. Robin came back from Estonia and went on to Harvard Law School, graduating magna cum laude and winning their annual moot court competition. He is now an attorney in Manhattan. Sam finished at MIT and went on to the University of Wisconsin for a combination MD/PhD program, which he finished a couple years ago. He is now a senior resident at the University of Washington medical center in Seattle.
I’m certainly not surprised at all by their success. They excelled at everything they did, including debate. But more than that, they were just great kids, the kind of kids that give you hope about the future. And now I get the great privilege of getting to know them again as adults. I only wish they were closer to Michigan and could make it back for this weekend. I am hosting a reunion dinner for some of the old late 80s debate folks in Michigan, including several that I have not seen in some 14 years now. So, the nostalgia tour continues, better than ever.