With aging I have become overly sensitive to the F-word—- “Forgetting.” Was it “forgetting” that resulted in my not following through with my intent — or was it the fact that I was trying to squeeze an event into a time during which I was also proctoring an exam, writing a blog piece about brain health, monitoring email, and making sure that all my students had the time they needed for the exam before the next group of students arrived?

I am well aware that nearly everyone who lives long enough experiences some cognitive decline. I am human. I am also quite familiar with that grey area of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — how to test for it, its relationship to dementia, how to compensate for it, and diagnostic guidelines for it (found here) .

According to Peter Rabins’ (University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health) 2018 White Paper on Memory it is estimated that 10 to 20% of Americans over 65 years of age have that condition with men more often affected than women and at earlier ages. Welcome, David, to your new reference group norms!

Perhaps this is part of my motivation for continuing to surround myself with intellectually stimulating students — and playful, younger relatives. In their presence I am younger. A number of studies (for example, this one: click here) suggest the preventative value of stimulating mental activities such as playing games, doing crafts, using a computer, and engaging in stimulation-rich social activities. Many studies have also found strong evidence for the value of age-appropriate strength training for global cognitive function (though not for memory). And I may have to start learning to dance ( see this link) or at least take up Tai Chi!

I’ve never claimed to have eidetic memory. Clearly I don’t. I committed a memory faux pas a few years ago by sending a message on my LinkedIn account indicating my delight at seeing a former student (whom I hadn’t seen in 40 years)  at our new Carroll University President’s inauguration. Alas, the 15 seconds of reunion with the former student and the intervening hours before I took the time to look him up on LinkedIn (hmm, he looks so different from whom I talked with) resulted in this subsequent electronic exchange.

  • David Simpson sent the following message at 8:35 PM

    Thanks for saying hello today!

  • sent the following message at 2:57 AM

    Professor – unfortunately that wasn’t me that said hello yesterday. I am with my family, on my way home from Rome and a little vacation. Hope you are well and thanks for the note!- DC ’85

  • David Simpson sent the following messages at 8:19 PM
     
  • Less you think that I am completely losing it, what happened is that as I was emerged from the ceremonial march, someone called out “Hello, Professor Simpson. Do you remember me? He then asked about Ralph Parsons. Ordinarily I have access to all my files of all students since 1977 (hard copy) but they were in storage while Rankin Hall was renovated. Though he did not look like you, he had indicated that we had been in touch on LinkedIn. Oops. Must be nice visiting Rome! Take Care —and thanks for the correction. I may have to blog about this! DS

     

Other times my memory for former students is so rich  that there is no need to consult inaccessible paper files. Such was the case for a Soul food Reunion Dinner with Carl Meredith.
 
 

Do keep those letters, emails, and visits coming. I enjoy your shared memories—some of which are new to me such as the one below shared with me in 2014.  

The letter was posted out of state on April 29, 2014. It appeared in my campus mail box a few days later. I glanced at the hand-written envelope too quickly, guessed that it might be a (sigh, yet another) solicitation for a letter of recommendation, and didn’t have a chance to open it until the following Saturday while I was proctoring my first final exam.

Dr. Simpson,

     I hope that this letter finds you in good health and spirit. I’m not sure if you’ll remember me, but you did something for me that I’ve never forgotten.

[Alas, he’s right that I am not as good at remembering students as I once was. I suspect that some of that memory failure is age-related; some is caused, I think, by how Carroll has changed. Some by the sheer number of students I have taught in the past 40 years. And though I had no immediate recollection of the particular event he shared, nonetheless I recalled him in some detail even without going to my filing cabinet and pulling out his advisee folder.]

In 2004 ,,, I called the College to inquire about online classes. The adviser I spoke with told me that you changed one of my grades allowing me to graduate. You gave me my life and I can never begin to thank you enough. … I never contacted you because I was embarrassed, but always so thankful for it….[B]ecause of what you did I have been able to get my Masters… and have the current job I hold.  I am about to leave for Afghanistan … And just want you to know that I have never forgotten what you did for me and have always tried to earn it and will continue to. Thank you so much. Respectfully,

I have only a vague recollection of the particular circumstance alluded to (but I verified its occurrence). A student, about to graduate fails a final exam in one of my courses. Were there personal circumstances affecting their performance? Is this part of a pattern? Is there justified reason to give them an additional chance — say, an oral exam?

A student is just a few points away from the next higher grade needed to graduate. This is easier for me to resolve, because of my extensive training in statistics and measurement error I am aware of and sensitive to the imprecision of measurement. I am quite comfortable in this situation under certain circumstances allowing some subjective (human, humane?) factors to enter into my final judgment of the student’s demonstrated abilities and likelihood of future success. I most assuredly would change a grade if I myself had made a clerical error in assigning a grade.

My vague recollection is that the latter was the case in this instance. Sometimes memory failure (or fuzziness) is a blessing! Simple acts of kindness, even when unintentional, can have long-lasting effects. This I believe.

I was overjoyed to hear from him and communicated my thankfulness for his letter and best wishes for safety while serving our country.