Opinion | Thank you, Ms. Hartley


Christopher Vye, Sports Editor

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully process everything that has happened since Aug. 21, 2019—the day my journey at ETHS began. What I do know, however, is that the lessons I have learned from this place are undoubtedly going to serve me well for the rest of my life, none more so than the ones I learned from my senior-year English teacher, Elizabeth Hartley.

The fact that I even ended up in Ms. Hartley’s class this year is nothing short of a miracle. Last summer, when schedules first became available, I was utterly dumbfounded to learn that I had not been assigned to an AP Literature & Composition course despite it being my top request, an event so rare at ETHS it’s basically unheard of. As a young senior who had not even started on their college applications, my primary concern at that point in time was that not being in AP would affect my admissions chances. The way I thought in August, I needed to be in AP if I wanted to have a shot at getting into any of the selective colleges I planned on applying to. So, I started sending emails, and was met with a series of vague, unhelpful responses. Ms. Hartley’s, however, was different. She wrote,

I’m happy to have you in my class!

…I want/NEED you in my class.


Please feel free to show this email to anyone who might be able to help you get where you want to be.

Suddenly, I needed Ms. Hartley to be my teacher for more reasons than just college admissions. By the first day of school, despite still not having been assigned to it, I did what any pissed-off 17-year-old would do in this situation—I showed up anyway. I will never regret that decision.

Though I don’t remember much from that first 15-minute period, what I can remember is this: Ms. Hartley had a stick. And it wasn’t just any stick. It was her knighting stick. By the end of the class, I, along with a few of my utterly bewildered classmates, had been knighted by Ms. Hartley.

“I don’t believe in doing things if it isn’t fun and it doesn’t really reflect who you are,” says Hartley, a quote that I feel perfectly encapsulates just what makes her so alluring.

It took a grand total of 15 emails, being lied to multiple times by various different administrators, and even being switched into a different non-AP course after being told that my schedule could not be changed, before I had finally managed to find myself assigned to Ms. Hartley’s class, a series of events that eventually culminated into a full-blown panic attack by the end of the first week. 

Since then, between philosophical discussions surrounding the subtext of Prince Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech, an interstellar journey to the planet of Tralfamadore during Slaughterhouse-Five, conflicting interpretations of Joseph Conrad’s views on imperialism in Heart of Darkness, and an in-class rendition of Thorton Wilder’s Our Town, what resonated with me most about Ms. Hartley was her own storytelling ability. Over the course of the year, her many stories served as a gentle reminder not to take life for granted or too seriously. Take, for example, the story of how she decided where to go to college:

When I was a senior in high school, I got into UCLA, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and maybe UC Santa Cruz. That was 1972. My sister was at UC Davis. I went up to visit her one weekend, and I saw that campus. I’m like, ‘I don’t like Davis. It’s boring up here,’ and then we came down to Berkeley. The next day, we walked down Telegraph Avenue, which was and still is a literally mind-blowing, transformational experience.

Freaks and hippies today are different than freaks and hippies back then, but it was the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. [Berkeley’s] campus was just exploding with sentiment and politics and protesting and individuality and craziness.

We went by 31 Flavors, got an ice cream cone, walked on campus under the Sather Gates, and this homeless person came up to us and spare changed us. My sister and her friend Leslie both recoiled like he had the plague or something like that, and I didn’t even think about it. 

I said, ‘I just spent all my last pennies at 31 Flavors, but you can have a bite of my ice cream cone if you’re hungry.’ And he did. My sister and Leslie, they both looked at me like ‘oh my god, you’re letting that person touch your ice cream.’ And he gave it back to me, said thank you and walked away. I looked at my sister and her friend and I’m like, ‘This is where I’m going to school.’

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As my year with Ms. Hartley came to a close, I knew that she would make a fascinating subject for my senior column. So, after she agreed to my interview request, I walked into her classroom with but a single question in mind: tell me your life story. Secretly, however, I was really just looking for advice after a high school experience full of tumult, and I knew that Ms. Hartley would be able to provide me with exactly what I was looking for. When I grow up, I want to be like Ms. Hartley, and sure enough, I found what I needed to hear.

“[It] stuck with me my entire life that it’s important to know what you care about,” says Hartley. “Make it how you live. Exactly what Gregor Samsa does not do in Metamorphosis. He just does what he thinks everybody expects him to do. I think that’s why I relate so strongly to him, since I did a lot of that. Any one of you guys that I can shake hard enough to make you see that that is a big waste of time, I consider that a success.”

Ms. Hartley, take this article as confirmation that you have succeeded.