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An Unusual Meeting

Dec 26, 2017

I was walking down the hallway to my office at City College, I saw a student from west Africa who'd taken a class with me. "Hello Professor" he said, smiling.   When I'm in the Psychology building, I often bump into students who've been in my class because one of my classes "Brain, Mind, and Experience" has over 200 students.  This student had a large shaved head and a kind face.   

"I was in your class and I received an A" he told me.

"That's great," I said.  I asked him his name, and we shook hands. Here I'll call him Tomiwa.

Soon I received an email from Tomiwa.  "Dear Professor, I saw you in the hallway last week. I told you I'd received an 'A' in your class, and you were delighted. I am applying to medical school and was wondering if you would write me a letter of recommendation."

I don't know about "delighted", but I did want to help. I emailed him that perhaps we could meet, and he could tell me more about himself before I write him the letter.  When we met, I learned that he arrived with his father to the United States when he was a teenager.   His mother and brother were already here.  He took courses at a community college in NYC, did well, and transferred to City College. He told me his interest in medicine came from seeing several of his family members deal with serious medical difficulties.  I liked him a lot, and told him to come back the next week for his letter of recommendation.

He showed up the next week, and I gave him the letter in a sealed envelope.  It spoke of a young man from Africa, mature and kind, who overcame difficulties to live and study in New York with great success.  "Thank you," he said.  "And professor, there's something else I wanted to tell you."

Sitting at a small round wood table in my office, he smiled and said "I wanted to tell you that I hear voices".  I looked at him and nodded as nonchalantly as I could, as if he'd told me that he likes his eggs poached rather than fried.  "Are you hearing them now?" I asked him.

"No.  I take a medication."

"And that reduces the voices?"

"Yes," he said.

We talked for about ten minutes about his experience with the voices, we shook hands, and he said goodbye.


  1. That was an "unusual" encounter, I do hope he can manage his illness and be successful in whatever his future turns out to be. My brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his late 20's and so was his daughter, but after getting properly diagnosed and medicated they were both able to live fairly normal lives with successful careers, she graduated from college, got her teacher's degree, and is an award winning special education junior high teacher with two children. My brother worked 30 years for a sulphur company until he retired. There is a lot of stigma attached to having a mental illness and I applaud anyone who gets the treatment they need and succeeds with life in spite of the burden. Happy New Year Jon!

  2. I did wonder about the young man who's moving ahead with a serious challenge, beyond what most people have to deal with.

    Thanks for mentioning the hopeful examples of your brother and niece.

    Happy New Year Anna.