In David Leeming’s fascinating book, “James Baldwin: A Biography,” the author describes Baldwin’s unlikely friendship with his sixth-grade teacher at P.S. 24 in New York City. Her name was Orilla Miller, but Baldwin came to call her simply “Bill.” Miller recognized James’ brilliance and encouraged him to write a play, which he did. They developed a warm bond and spent time talking about Charles Dickens, their favorite author, and attending “real plays” on Broadway.

Their friendship lasted 34 years. At one point after Baldwin had developed a stellar reputation as a writer, Miller wrote Baldwin a letter, which said, in part, “James, I want to tell you that the promise of the wonderful child has been fulfilled as a man. That Evan (her husband) and I had a small part in your life adds to the value of ours. I also say, thank you, that there is this James Baldwin in America in the year 1963. Shortly before his death in 1965, Baldwin said of his friend Bill, “She was one of those you could depend on, one who knew how to keep the faith.”

In 1955, I was in the eighth grade at Van Devender Junior High School in Parkersburg, West Virginia. My English teacher Mrs. Morton spent some time teaching us how to diagram sentences. I was fascinated by the process, unlike the feral boys whose interests, dare I say, seldom ran to matters of the mind. She liked me and later invited my family to her house for a picnic. I did not keep up with Mrs. Morton, but I still think of her when I’m trying to put words to paper in a way she would deem “proper.”

For several years I ran the annual talent show at our summer community. One year, I encouraged a shy 10-year-old girl named Lulu to perform in the show. She did fine in the show and ultimately became one of my go-to performers. Her grandfather recently told me that Lulu had sung the National Anthem during the graduation at UC Berkeley where she was a junior. He thanked me for getting her started at the talent show.

Rainesha Miller, from Birmingham, Alabama, graduated from Bowdoin College in 2013. I first met Rai when I was doing some writing work for her independent school, and she became our host student as part of the Bowdoin Host Family program. When Rai was a senior, I encouraged her to apply to be a speaker at commencement. (The college always selects two seniors to speak at commencement and one to speak at baccalaureate.) Rai balked, saying, “I don’t know what I’d talk about.” I told her that she would figure it out and offered to serve as a sounding board. She took the bait, got selected and gave a poignant speech entitled, “Rising Through Fear.” Rai later spent two years in Indonesia, first on a Fulbright fellowship and later as an administrator for Fulbright. She then went on to Oklahoma State University where she recently completed all requirements for a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. She plans to work in the counseling office on a college campus.

Ural Mishra came to Bowdoin from Nepal in the fall of 2016. The college had arranged for international students to spend a few days with members of the community to get acclimated to the U.S. before starting orientation. We hosted Ural as well as Dani Hove from South Africa. I spotted Ural’s leadership talent and said to him at the end of his visit, “Ural, someday you’re going to be president of the student government at Bowdoin.” In the spring of his junior year, I ran into Ural at the Smith Union. He said to me, “Remember when you said I’d be the president of the student government? Well, the election is tomorrow.” Ural won the election.

Bill De La Rosa, a child of Mexican immigrants living in Arizona, graduated from Bowdoin in 2016 after having compiled a superb record of honors, including giving the commencement speech. I had met Bill during his first year because my good friends Steve and Sue Loebs had said, “You have to write about Bill De La Rosa for your ‘Unsung Heroes’ column in the Forecaster. He’s amazing.”

They were right. Bill went on from Bowdoin to earn two masters degrees at Oxford (one in migration, the other in criminology and criminal studies), and he will return to Oxford in the fall to work on a Ph.D. After Oxford, he plans to attend Yale Law School.

When I interviewed Bill at the Little Dog Cafe, I said to him, “Bill, one day you’re going to be president of the United States.” He laughed and said, “My plan is to run for the Senate someday.” Remember the name: Bill De La Rosa.

We only go through life once, so why not encourage other people — young, old or in-between — to step out, take a risk, dream big. Nothing could be more rewarding.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions fo future “Just a Little Old” columns. dtread[email protected]

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