Extraordinary Students

A little event last week reminded me of what I admire most in students. I was giving a guest presentation in Robert McCann’s freshman seminar at the University of Toronto. As I was setting up, I realized I needed a power strip. I said to the gathering class, “Will someone go get me a power strip?” One student, a Matthew Hrycyk, promptly volunteered. He returned quickly with a power strip that he had found and borrowed somewhere.

Many years ago I was teaching a large vector calculus lecture at Rice University. Near the beginning of the class, some huge maintenance machinery arrived outside the window with a roar that made continuation difficult. I called on a member of the class: “Go make that noise stop.” He got right up, went outside, talked to the crew, and stopped the noise.

A third time I was visiting the University of Oklahoma to give a talk. I caught lunch beforehand on my own in the dining hall. I got into a short conversation with the student ahead of me in line. When we got to the register, he paid for my lunch. “My pleasure,” he said; “we’re honored to have you visiting here.” I still remember his name: Justin Ray Le Blanc.

I’ve had many brilliant students in my day, but these three are the kind I find most extraordinary and memorable.