What They Remember

At the end of each semester, I always ask students what writing they most remember from the whole course. Which sentence from the writing we’ve read all semester (books, journal articles, sample student writing, etc) stayed in their minds?

It’s a great activity because I’m able to prove how we latch on to sentences with vivid images, repetition or rhythm, wordplay (chiasmus, irony, puns), or something unexpected. We latch on to sentences a writer isolates on the page. We latch on to unusual words.

Notice what you remember. See how you can write sentences that stick in the mind. Write so the words linger.

Some moments from class:

Some recalled the isolated line written in an essay by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. He writes a beautiful paragraph but then separates out one sentence. But then our plans changed. The line strikes the heart as Nadella discloses how his passion for accessibility stemmed from the day his son was born with special needs.

Students recall unusual words that stick around in their brain, like when we read a recovering drug addict’s drive through Hollywood. The author writes of “surging melancholy” and reflects: “I wound my way through the neurotic Hollywood hills, the narrow lanes and tight bends were a material echo of the synaptic tangle where my thoughts stalled and jammed.” Students can quote the line by heart from September after I never mentioned it again.

We talk about quotable writing. We talk about repetition. We talk about the unexpected. I asked them what single line they can quote from JFK’s speech as he stood in that stadium at Rice University claiming, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” What beautiful lines to apply to one’s own life!  Students can say them easily.

As we arrange our words on the page, we think about what we do that will “serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”

And we write so others will remember it.

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