Know My Name

I adore one particular quote from Virginia Satir, the noted author, therapist, and pioneer of family therapy.  You know how it is…when you run across the sentiments of a great thinker – a poet, a musician, an artist of any sort – and you wonder how in the devil they managed to peer into your soul. That note of familiarity, kinship that’s summoned when you realize you’re not the first, last or only person to nod deeply in recognition…

“I believe the greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen by them, heard by them, to be understood and touched by them.

The greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand and to touch another person.

When this is done I feel contact has been made.”

-Virginia Satir

I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by a quote that moves me. More often than I could ever count, my reactions are more jubilant than simple nods of acknowledgement.  When moments of “knowingness” arrive, they eclipse everything else in view. Tears come easily and waves of peace follow…an odd trail of tranquility – maybe fleeting – but insight, nonetheless.

In my roles as a professor and therapist, I valued the importance of attending to each student, client, person as an individual.  Even in a large lecture class, taking the time to get to know my students mattered immensely, and the starting block?  Always the same.  Know their names.  From their names, everything else that matters flows:  Learning about their talents, skills, aspirations, fears, needs.

For me to feel effective in my teaching and helping roles, I needed to get up to speed with the basics, so the enriching and magnificent nuances of ‘knowing’ could flow freely into the composites I held in my head and heart. I’m a compulsive note-taker, but I found early in my career that “being with” another required dedication of all the senses, especially listening and observing…less about note-taking.

Satir knew this when she said, ‘the greatest gift…is to be seen…heard…understood’.  Yes! When one of my former students, E.F. reached out recently to thank me for a letter of recommendation, she made a point of expressing her appreciation – not just for my endorsement of her for a graduate school fellowship – but to acknowledge the role I played in motivating her to be her best. Satir’s wisdom in action. Let me share…

E.F. was new to the U.S. when I met her seven years ago and she was the first in her family to attend college.  In her very first semester, she became pregnant and nearly dropped out, feeling defeated before she’d even begun.  Her family – mom, dad and two younger siblings – suffered from the rapid cultural transitions, language barriers and all things financial when the moved – especially housing and transportation challenges.

Despite those hardships, her parents prioritized education and wanted E.F. to set an example for her brother and sister, which translated into a pressure-packed existence for sweet E.F.  She hid her pregnancy from her family for months and showed up to my class late, looking fragile and green-around-the-gills.

I suspected but didn’t intrude… I always had crackers and granola bars in my teaching bag of tricks, and I’d lay them out by the lectern, for any student who was hungry or just needed to nosh.  No questions…and I noticed E.F. routinely taking a snack, especially the protein granola bars. 

Eventually she told me her news, but it was in a paper she wrote about ‘her greatest struggle’ as it related to a psychological theory we were studying.  I loved how she disclosed her situation to me in the safest way possible – in a paper where I couldn’t openly shun her or give a disapproving scowl (not that I would have – but she didn’t know that).  Following her lead, I returned comments to her in writing, thanking her for trusting me with her news and bit by bit, we built a connection, across the semester while her sweet son, J.P. was in utero, along for the ride.

I encouraged E.F. to use health services on campus and the job placement office, reminded her of tutoring and academic supports, all while celebrating – honestly and sincerely – her writing talents and gift of expression.  Not as a ‘non-native speaker’ but as a talented writer – period. 

When E.F. reached out a few months ago to ask if I remembered her and if I might write a letter of recommendation, she shared that J.P is now six years old and she’s been married to his father, happily for five years.  The last I’d heard from her was an email with a baby announcement when her sweet son was born. This was magnificent news!

Did I remember her?  Of course.  And I shared I’d be thrilled to write a letter of support.  I love doing that and try very hard to make each recommendation as heartfelt and specific as possible.  Same when I’m privileged to be an employment reference.  In E.F’s case, she was a finalist for a prestigious fellowship – one that would provide a sizeable stipend as well. She provided the details that helped me write a compelling letter and I sent it off…thinking good thoughts. 

When I heard from E.F. right before Christmas, she shared her great news – she was awarded the fellowship. I was ecstatic!  But as I read past the first paragraph, I began to cry, because she also wrote this:

 “I think you should know that you made a difference in my life the first day I met you.  I was scared but you took the time to get to know everyone’s names.  Even mine that was hard to pronounce.  You didn’t make a joke or stumble, you just asked me to repeat my name a couple of times until you got it right.  In every other class that semester, the teachers didn’t bother to learn my name or how to say it.  But you did and even though I was still scared, you made me feel like I belonged.  And you always did that.  Made me feel like I could.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Humbled doesn’t begin to describe how E.F. made me feel.  Overwhelmed AND humbled?  Grateful?  Yes, certainly, but more than that, her full circle sharing of how ‘being seen’ mattered to her when she was vulnerable…so very vulnerable…is a reminder to me that we cannot know how our acts of kindness, just as Virginia Satir suggests, through seeing, hearing, understanding, are impactful.  They just are.

Vicki 🧡

Thank you for reading!  Please visit my personal blog at or follow me on Instagram at @victoria.atkinsongroup

43 thoughts on “Know My Name

  1. That was beautiful Vicki, thank you for sharing this story. I think we often are unaware of how we may touch another human by doing something as simple as knowing and using their name, remembering some small aspect of a conversation, even just acknowledging them with a smile or a hello. Those gestures can make an astounding difference in another person’s life, and bring joy to our own as well.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you so much, Deb. I’ve learned I need to keep tissues nearby…tears always come easily, but especially when I receive gratitude messages or see kindness demonstrated between others. I agree with you — the simplest gestures can have tremendous impact. Sending hugs to you this morning! 🥰

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, what an incredibly touching story, and you had me feeling so invested in E.F.’s story. I am so happy she is doing so well!! As Deb say, we never know the impact we may have so it’s important, I believe, leading with our heart in each interaction. At the start of COVID, our farmer’s market offered curbside pickup. Three years later, a women from the customer service counter flagged us down to thank us… most customers had been impatient, rude and, when she accidentally undercharged us, we graciously returned to pay the difference. We didn’t remember her… but she vividly remembered us, simply because we were kind. Nothing special or above-and-beyond. Just simple kindness makes such a difference.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Erin! I love that story — especially because you know that shortfall was going to impact her, that undercharging. Isn’t it wonderful how lifted up WE feel when show kindness? It’s the best, I think. I love that she remembered you. xo! 💕

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Yes, it’s such an incredible feeling to act with kindness, and the feeling is amplified when the other person acknowledges it. There is so much selfishness in the world and it perplexes me…. there is little cost and so much to gain from human kindness. As in your story, many years later, those tint ripples of kindness may have set off a tsunami of goodness. xoxo!!

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Whaaaatttt?? Tsunami of goodness! Oh golly — I love that phrase! Quick! Trademark it! 😉 Thank you so much, Erin. I hear you about being perplexed by selfishness. I figure it’s a safety mechanism, a defensive shield for many folks. “I’m going to take care of myself because I don’t think anyone else will.” xo for your thoughtful comment! 🤍🤍🤍

        Liked by 3 people

    2. These stories about making a difference in someone’s life are so precious: yes, there are those heroics of a firefighter saving someone’s life that make the news, but I think that the ones that are most likely to happen, the ones that shape most of our lives, for good or for less good, are those smaller encounters with people. Sometimes, it’s with a teacher, like with Vicki. Sometimes it’s with a merchant, like with Esoterica. But, fortunately, fires are rarer than those encounters that we have with those who have a chance make a difference.

      Thank you for sharing, it makes a difference to the community!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Thank you, EW! I love your thinking about little things making a difference – in a myriad of ways, especially those small, everyday encounters as you said. Beautiful! ❤️😉❤️


  3. What a wonderful story to share! As a teacher myself, I’m always striving to get to know my students names as well as a few other things about them they would like to share. It so awesome that you opened the door for E.F. to be herself in your class and with you. What a gift you’ve given to all of your students! Glad to hear E.F. is thriving!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Read Between….I love that we have that teacher connection in common. It’s not easy to remember students’ names…especially for teachers that have so, so many students but I think you’re right. Knowing their names and other tidbits of sharing actually helps us to remember them…and build connections, familiarity with fellow students, too. Thank you for reading and commenting about E.F. I wish you all good things today! Hugs! 🥰

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I love everything about this story, Vicki! What it says about you is so lovely – totally what I would expect, but still… I loved hearing about EF and the time you took for her – both back then and now… The not judging… And the way she reached out through a paper, and you responded in kind, until she was ready for more was just precious. And of course, I loved the happy ending. But the bigger message, as Deb and Erin have pointed out, being that small kindnesses matter. Such a beautiful and uplifting post for this Sunday. Thank you, Vicki, for sharing from the heart! 🤍

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh, my dear Kendra. Thank you so much for your ever-thoughtful comments. Yep, yep, yep. E.F. was so nervous about her spoken English skills that it was easier for her to write her thoughts and it turned out to be the conduit for our connection. I often wondered if I pressed her more, asked her to share more in class, verbally, if she would’ve retreated. I can be that overbearing, overly helpful person (so much good stuff popped in recognition for me in response to Wynne’s post yesterday) but with E.F., I needed her to find her way and just receive and, in her case, writing became a true talent. Hugs to you! 🥰

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Great post, Vicki. Those of us who teach (or who have taught) are indeed privileged to be (have been) in a position to make a difference in the lives of some of our students, often without knowing it. Kindness wins out every time, in any occupation.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, Jane. Couldn’t agree more…opportunities to extend kindness are everywhere, in every profession. And I love that you’ve used the word ‘privileged’. Oh my, yes. xo! 🥰

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, I’m in tears. What a beautiful story! And what an amazing human you are — and is EF in her willingness, desire and openness to be known. Both when you first met her — and now in sharing how you made such a difference. This is the kind of story that we all hope we get to see if we’ve made a difference. You have shown us what it looks like.

    Absolutely magnificent. Thank you, dear Vicki. You are amazing!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Wynne, Wynne, Wynne — you know what I say…I’m stumbling through, LOL, and it’s the dear-hearted friends like you that give me all the lift and love. Thank you for being you. Xo, soul sister! ❤️

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Such a touching story Vicki. It is true, we can have such a big impact just going about our job that we’re not even aware of. Teaching really does make a difference, I just believe we don’t always get to see or hear about it most of the time, that it can really get to us when we do hear about it.

    About not just taking the time to get to know student names, but that we know how to pronounce them properly. I recently had a student who offered an alternative, abbreviated name as others couldn’t pronounce her name properly- she was surprised when I said it correctly. As you say, these are the little things that make all students feel included.

    Congratulations on the great job you’re doing Vicki 😁

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Brenda! Thank you so much. I can only imagine how thoughtful and effective you are with your students because of what you shared — knowing their names but also allowing our students’ identities to come through…letting them tell US what they’d like to be called, what name to use. I bet the fact that you pronounced your student’s name correctly, when many others couldn’t/didn’t try, made her feel ten feet tall. Cheers to you for all of that…and thank you so much for reading and sharing…and for being an educator. xo! 😘

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a class starting in a few weeks’ time I don’t want to teach. Trying to shake the negativity and find some fun activities to start and get them engaged- which is the hardest thing at that level.

        Do you teach at University?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ohhh….summoning up the energy can be difficult! Best wishes as you look for new ways to engage and motivate. Challenging…but I suspect you’re good at it! And yes, I was an adjunct faculty member in a university setting but spent more of my career as a full time faculty member at a community college. I loved it! 😘


  8. What a lovely, heartwarming post Vicki. Thank you for sharing and for the reminder that every act of kindness makes a difference whether we realize it or not. The joy of knowing the impact that you had (and continue to have) on her life must border on overwhelming. Well, I can only imagine, anyway . . . You are an inspiration!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Julia…you are a love. I believe I’m enriched by all of these lovely experiences…and humbled by the fact that kindness matters, even when the outcomes are elusive. EF’s story? What a gift! Thank you for reading and for your generous comment. Big hugs! 🥰🥰🥰

      Liked by 1 person

  9. There is no more excellent gift to a teacher than to receive such a letter as EF sent you. You have much to be proud of, Vicki. As Einstein is reported to have said, “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for sharing such a kind comment, Dr. Stein. I think you’re right – there’s no greater gift than praise that amounts to “thank you for seeing me”. And what a perfect quote for you to share from Einstein — love that one! Big smiles to you! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh, I love this Victoria. My brothers and I were the first in our family to get our degrees. I can relate so much to EF’s letter, to the concern, the fear of doing well, fitting in. I didn’t have a language barrier, but it was still a barrier to overcome. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done. Your students are lucky to have you. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Brian…thank you! I think you’re right — that fear of not fitting in, feeling different and unworthy is so challenging. I was fortunate to meet EF and be a person on her path. Take care, friend! 😊😊😊

      Liked by 1 person

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