Seventh grade seems like such a long time ago, yet there are memories that stand out in my mind that seem as fresh, as the shock of hearing about Mr. Peterson's passing:
On my first day at Ransom Everglades, a man who was rumoured to be the meanest, fiercest, scariest teacher at the school greeted me. He was to be my history teacher for fifth period every day. I sat through his first class with shaking knees as he told us that over two-thirds of his classes failed. We were so shocked that we missed his next statement, telling us he considered anything below an A, a fail. I was terrified as he warned us about his tests, brain retention exercises, and threatened us with pop-quizzes. Then he gave us hope: Bonus Factoids.
It was only when I began to research our first question that I realized it was just a cruel joke. So many people had been quoted for phrases similar to the quote he had given us to find. Not a single student of Mr. Peterson has ever brought back the correct answer, unless they had an older brother or sister helping them. We arrived back in class with a multitude of answers, none correct. Yet it was not the actual answer that was so central to his point, it was the quote itself:
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”-Jim Jones.
It is what he, more than anything, wanted us to take from his class. He expected us only to know what he knew, and we soon realized he knew quite a bit. As the year went on, I lost my fear, and in its stead, grew a deep admiration and love. I spent every moment I could at his desk, discussing and learning from his wealth of knowledge. Looking back, his patience was endless, and I cannot imagine how I must have tortured him at times with my daily visits, before school, after school, during lunch. Here was a man more passionate about his subject and his subjects than I had ever met. He enriched not only our knowledge but also our lives, bringing history to life before our very eyes and drawing us into it.
Though his expectations were high, his lessons were incredible: civil war wax museums, re-enactments, underground railways, fan-language and etiquette classes, to name a few. We realized he wasn't the sternest teacher , the reputation he so eagerly wore and perpetuated with tall stories. No matter how persistent the rumours, , we knew he definitely had never eaten any sixth-graders.
In the past year or so, it has been harder for him to keep up that façade. For a man that had revelled in his role as the school ogre, he had an awfully hard time convincing students of his meanness with a huge smile spread across his face. Love can do funny things to a man, and when I came to visit during my time in Miami I had never seen him happier.
His lessons reach far beyond the facts of history. He taught us to be interested, fascinated by all around us, to draw upon everything that surrounded us with a thirst to learn. He showed us the layers of humanity, its achievements, its shame, and its possibilities. He taught us to remember the past, so that we would never repeat it. He opened our eyes to the opportunities that lay before us. He taught us to expect more of ourselves, and to go beyond those expectations.
Passion is an inspiring thing. It can light flames in ones soul and tender them into roaring fires. This is what Mr. Peterson did for his students. He has sent us forth alight with enthusiasm, eager for life and knowledge and in this, in our achievements and our lives, he lives on.