Recently a wonderful man was taken from the world. He was my English teacher my freshman year of high school, but he was so much more than just a teacher. He was a kind, genuine, and inspiring man. I owe so much of the person I’ve become to him. From the second I stepped into that classroom on my first day of high school, it was clear that my life would never be the same. You know those teachers that can somehow always make learning fun, no matter what the subject? That was him. And so I felt the need to share some of the moments that stand out so strongly in my mind.
One of the first moments that comes to mind is when he had me stand on his desk to recite the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. In that moment it was clear that this would be a class unlike any that I had ever taken before. It instilled a love of Shakespeare in me, one that I hadn’t felt until that moment. A few days later I had bought myself a copy of Romeo and Juliet, which still sits on display in my bedroom to this day. It’s because of him that I’m able to quote the opening scene of that play word for word—“Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” “I do bite my thumb, sir.” “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” “Is the law on our side if I say ‘ay?’” “No!” “No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir.”—and I’m so thankful that he introduced me to such an amazing playwright in such a fun yet educational way.
Another thing that I remember clearly is when he had us read the short story “The Lady and the Tiger” and then instructed us to write our own endings to it. I’m sure that I have it buried somewhere on my old laptop, and maybe someday I’ll share it with you guys. This was such an important thing for me because for the first time in a very, very long time I was being encouraged by a teacher to write something that wasn’t an essay. For me it sort of legitimized my love of fiction writing. It made me feel like writing a novel wasn’t a useless endeavor that was looked down upon by educators. And, even better, he didn’t even get mad at me when I changed the font size and margins so that I could write past the page limit. Instead he encouraged me, told me that my writing was good. That meant the world to me back then, and it still means the world to me now.
A fun memory that doesn’t have to do with fiction but is worth telling anyway is the time when my best friend’s mom saw him driving in the rain without the top on his jeep. He never put the top on that thing, he would drive it in the snow, rain, wind… it didn’t matter to him. My friend’s mom wasn’t having any of that, though, and so she followed him all the way to his house and then shouted out her window at him that he needed to put the top on his jeep. My friend was mortified, but I was near tears from laughing so hard. The next day my friend’s mom gave us both money to give to him so that he would buy a top for his jeep. The memory still makes me laugh.
One of the most important things that he did for me, though, was teach me to love poetry. Before his class it was just something that I dabbled in but never really read. I wrote sappy love poems about my crushes, but I never went beyond that. Everything changed in his classroom, though. He taught us how poetry worked. He introduced us to Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Frost, who are now two of my favorite poets. He had us write poetry in class, and then my senior year he helped a few of my friends and I start a poetry club. I wrote some of my favorite pieces of poetry for that club, one of which I have hanging on my mirror back home. I don’t think I would have ever written it if it hadn’t been for his support and encouragement. Honestly, I feel sorrow for the students who will never get to experience his teaching. There are some things that no person should have to miss, and this is one of them.
Of course there are a thousand other memories I could share. The way he used to joke with students by drawing silly things on the whiteboards, the way he let me advertise the school plays by writing letters in-character on the whiteboard, the way he and another teacher used to play pranks on each other… The list goes on and on and on. He let me be his assistant the second semester of my senior year. He blasted music from his speakers during the passing periods. He was only in his thirties. He had two young kids and a loving wife. He had so much to live for, and now he’s gone. I’m sure that the tears of those who loved him could fill an ocean, and for that reason I decided to share these stories with you today. He never deserved to go like this. He never deserved to go at all. I don’t know why God takes the genuinely good ones from us. All I know is that I’m blessed to have had him in my life at all, because he made me a better student, a better writer, and a better human being.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Nevins.