Dear Ms. Hardwick,
Elvis, Alexander Hamilton (Texas Rangers Edition), and Benjamin Franklin walked into a room. This would read as the beginning of a bad joke to anyone else. To the students of St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes High School in Alexandria, VA, it was the signal it was midterms week. Every year, Kate Hardwick’s class would have the opportunity to dress up and proceed to take their midterm exam as a historical figure in order to receive extra credit points on a future assignment. So that year, as years of APUSH students had before me, I took my midterm dressed as Amelia Earhart. I spent the whole exam trying to keep my flight goggles (my mom’s old ski goggles) from falling onto my face.
It might seem unusual, especially for an AP course, for its students to have dressed up and laughing walking into the exam. APUSH was notorious for long, tedious, confusing exam questions that are guaranteed to put a dent in your GPA, not breeding happy students.
However, this attitude could not have been more normal for something planned by Ms. Hardwick. Unlike teachers that drop midterms off and wait for their students to struggle, I remember you laughing at all our nervous remarks and calming us down as you handed them out. You knew that we were capable of greatness, and never let us think anything less.
I got a B on that midterm, and receiving that grade was one of my proudest high school achievements (until I ended up getting a 4/5 on the APUSH test, another accomplishment only possible through you). I didn’t see many high grades at the beginning of that course, but despite me telling you it wasn’t going to change you believed it could. When I wanted to blow off the test corrections you gave us and not meet with you, you kindly pushed me to go through with it. Every class you reminded us that you would meet with us whenever, whether it was about class or life. Your unwavering dedication to not only my grades but the way I believed in myself never went unnoticed. In truth, it changed the way I viewed and carried myself as a student.
The pandemic hit while I was your student, and damn was I lucky. Instead of shutting down or losing steam, you never missed a beat. You started every Zoom class by checking in with us, giving us space to process our emotions. Sometimes this would eat up 30 minutes of your restructured lesson plan. You never cared. I remembered reading a tweet from your Twitter @hangingwithmsh (like come on you couldn’t get any cooler) where you broke down what you learned from the pandemic. It makes my eyes well up reading it now, just seeing how each lesson was either about your love for us, your love for teaching, or your love for the community. To stare a pandemic in the face and say “I am going to best you. I am going to do it because I love my students and I love what I do” is unprecedented. You and your energy are truly a gift.
Though a teacher, you were always a human first. You knew we were students, but encouraged us to follow your own example. I may have taken this a tad too seriously, to the point where I emailed you too much. Thank you for not only always responding to those emails, but being so much fun when you did. (For context, I literally emailed her photos of me at homecoming with my fellow APUSH classmates, to which she responded: “Y’all look great #APUSHsquad!”) It is so far and few to find not just teachers, but people like you. I will never stop thanking you for your continued kindness.
I remember when it was research paper time, and being in high school, an 8-10 page paper was extremely daunting. I always considered myself a writer, but such an information-based piece was less than ideal. I vividly remember sitting down with you about my chosen topic, something about birth control accelerating the women’s rights movement, and watching your gears turn. You learned that I was passionate about anything women’s rights related over the semester, and despite seeing the difficulties in creating this paper, energetically pushed me to pursue it. We both knew there were easier topics, but you wanted me to learn about what I loved. You wouldn’t let me change my topic, and I’m so happy you didn’t.
You so deeply ingrained in me the lesson of passion over perfection, which was one that was so obvious in your teaching. You didn’t just teach us history, you wanted us to be it. You ripped presidents, abolitionists, revolutionaries, fighters, heroes, and villains out of history books and brought them into your classroom. You helped us analyze documents like Federalist 10 and the Mayflower Compact to such a point of familiarity that I believed I had written them myself. When we yelled out dates that were so off they were in another part of history, you laughed along with us and led us to the correct year. You looked at the AP plan and said “How can we make this fun? How can we make this engaging? What can I do for my students?”
It was my sophomore year of high school when I met my favorite teacher. Now, approaching my
junior year of college, her teachings years ago led me to this stage where I get to grandly thank her. Ms. Hardwick, thank you will never be enough. You have changed so many lives with your passion, and I will embody that lesson in my scholastic and professional endeavors in your honor. Now, to close, for old time’s sake:
Your favorite APUSH student,