“Happy New Year”

Faculty member Liam Callanan’s essay on new beginnings at MilwaukeeMag.com:

I’ve never forgotten her name, even though she forgot it not long after we met: Kell.

Kell was a student in the first college class I ever taught, English 101, and as I called roll the first day, she corrected me. I was not to use Kelly, the name on the class roster, but rather, Kell. As she spoke, she lowered both her voice and the brim of her ball cap. She was serious.

So was I. I took pains to get her name right the next class.

“Kell?” I called out.

No reply. I glanced up from the roster. “Kell?” She looked back at me blankly with no sign of recognition.

Awkward silence followed – a specialty of my first year teaching in Virginia – and I finally said as gently as I could: “Kell? It’s your name, remember?”

She brightened. “Oh, right!” she said. “Kell!”

Kell’s been my patron saint of September ever since, reminding me that no matter what the calendar claims, this is the month, not January, when we celebrate a new year and new beginnings. This is the month that prompts us – whether we’re starting college or first grade or planning our 35th reunion – to get serious. Serious about our health or our job or our futures or even, in Kell’s case, our names. She’s not the first person who started a school year looking to forge a new identity...[Keep Reading]…

Liam is the author of All Saints (2008, Dial Press) and The Cloud Atlas (2004, Dial).

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