2012: Yehoshua November, “To Be a Student”
To be a student means to put on a sweater in the winter and run
to the lecture hall, to force yourself to stare
at the ancient professor’s face spouting theorems
instead of the picture of your girlfriend who is studying
in another state. In the picture, she stands
in front of a lake. Perhaps one day she will be your wife,
and you will wonder if it’s possible you were ever a student.
How many times you have risen, exhausted, from your chair
under the library’s fluorescent light, just before midnight,
and walked toward the water fountain,
past the other serious students who love knowledge
and success. And the next day’s exam
was always easier than you had imagined,
unless it was harder.
To be a student is to wait for the semester’s end
and to wait for the semester’s open.
And then one day, just like that, you finish school.
You consider how much you have forgotten—
who fired the shot that began one nation’s history and ended another’s,
how to conjugate the rare verb tenses spoken in a country
no one has ever visited, the face of the student
you sat next to the first class, the first fall.
How beautiful it is to know you have worked so hard.
How strange it is to wake up, no longer a student,
and realize you know nothing about the world.
How beautiful it is to rise early,
humble and ready to learn.
Commissioned by the Eta Chapter of Ohio, Phi Beta Kappa, 2012
About Yehoshua November
Yehoshua November’s debut book, God's Optimism, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Books Prize (2010). His poems have appeared in a number of distinguished journals, including The Sun, Prairie Schooner, Margie, and The Forward, and the collection received very strong reviews. His poetry has been anthologized, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and selected as the winner of Prairie Schooner’s Bernice Slote Award. He teaches writing at Rutgers University and Touro College. In February 2012 he gave a poetry reading at Ohio Wesleyan University.