Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Albert Camus’ Touching Thank You Letter to His Elementary School Teacher

It’s nev­er too late to thank the teacher who changed your life.

Oprah Win­frey fell to pieces when she was reunit­ed on air with Mrs. Dun­can, her fourth grade teacher, her “first lib­er­a­tor” and “val­ida­tor.”

Patrick Stew­art used his knight­hood cer­e­mo­ny as an occa­sion to thank Cecil Dor­mand, the Eng­lish teacher who told him that Shakespeare’s works were not dra­mat­ic poems, but plays to be per­formed on one’s feet.

And Bill Gates had kind words for Blanche Caffiere, the for­mer librar­i­an at View Ridge Ele­men­tary in Seat­tle, who des­tig­ma­tized his role as a “messy, nerdy boy who was read­ing lots of books.”

One of the most heart­felt stu­dent-to-teacher trib­utes is that of Nobel Prize-win­ning author and philoso­pher Albert Camus to Louis Ger­main, a father sub­sti­tute whose class­room was a wel­come reprieve from the extreme pover­ty Camus expe­ri­enced at home. Ger­main per­suad­ed Camus’ wid­owed moth­er to allow Camus to com­pete for the schol­ar­ship that enabled him to attend high school.

As read aloud by actor Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, above, at Let­ters Live, a “cel­e­bra­tion of the endur­ing pow­er of lit­er­ary cor­re­spon­dence,” Camus’ 1957 mes­sage to Ger­main is an exer­cise in humil­i­ty and sim­ply stat­ed grat­i­tude:

Dear Mon­sieur Ger­main,

I let the com­mo­tion around me these days sub­side a bit before speak­ing to you from the bot­tom of my heart. I have just been giv­en far too great an hon­our, one I nei­ther sought nor solicit­ed.

But when I heard the news, my first thought, after my moth­er, was of you. With­out you, with­out the affec­tion­ate hand you extend­ed to the small poor child that I was, with­out your teach­ing and exam­ple, none of all this would have hap­pened.

I don’t make too much of this sort of hon­our. But at least it gives me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the gen­er­ous heart you put into it still live in one of your lit­tle school­boys who, despite the years, has nev­er stopped being your grate­ful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.

Albert Camus

The let­ter was grate­ful­ly received by his for­mer teacher, who wrote back a year and a half lat­er to say in part:

If it were pos­si­ble, I would squeeze the great boy whom you have become, and who will always remain for me “my lit­tle Camus.”

He com­pli­ment­ed his lit­tle Camus on not let­ting fame go to his head, and urged him to con­tin­ue mak­ing his fam­i­ly pri­or­i­ty. He shared some fond mem­o­ries of Camus as a gen­tle, opti­mistic, intel­lec­tu­al­ly curi­ous lit­tle fel­low, and praised his moth­er for doing her best in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances.

Read­ers, please use the com­ments sec­tion to share with us the teach­ers deserv­ing of your thanks.

You can find this let­ter, and many more, in the great Let­ters of Note book.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Albert Camus: The Mad­ness of Sin­cer­i­ty — 1997 Doc­u­men­tary Revis­its the Philosopher’s Life & Work

Albert Camus, Edi­tor of the French Resis­tance News­pa­per Com­bat, Writes Mov­ing­ly About Life, Pol­i­tics & War (1944–47)

Hear Albert Camus Deliv­er His Nobel Prize Accep­tance Speech (1957)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (11)
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  • Cindy Forshaw says:

    This was so touch­ing. Remind­ed me of a few real­ly cool teach­ers who have giv­en me the con­fi­dence to ‘shine’…when some oth­ers around you are try­ing their best to lev­el you. I have fond mem­o­ries of Dr. John Hart, out of Syd­ney Uni..(Social Work Dpt)..who gave me that sup­port when I entered Uni­ver­si­ty at the ripe old age of 53. You are always remem­bered for your insight, knowl­edge and great Heart. Yes Camus…these are the great teach­ers are the real heroes in my book.

  • Randy says:

    I do miss some of my teach­ers very much.

  • Cindy Forshaw says:

    PS. That should read: These great teach­ers are the real heroes in my book. Cheers, Cindy You can see Dr. Hart did not teach me IT skills.

  • Cindy Forshaw says:

    Hi Randy,
    Even though they are not ‘with us’ any more…we hold them in our memories…just recall the way they were with you and you will ‘live the expe­ri­ence’ once more.

    Cindy in Oz.

  • Ellen Rigsby says:

    My teach­ers meant the world to me. Delaney Ben­net, Dr. Pen­ny Rainey, John McCabe, and all the oth­er teach­ers who gave their time and atten­tion to me. Thanks, thanks, thanks, Ellen Rigs­by

  • Ann Paraskeva says:

    I appre­ci­ate many of my teach­ers but the one who stands out is the librar­i­an at Fitzroy High School Mrs Ander­son. She instilled in me a love of books & read­ing which I in turn instilled in my daugh­ters & both are grate­ful. Now long gone I remem­ber her with love & deep appre­ci­a­tion.

  • Rama Reddy Ganta says:

    Even after near­ly 60 years after pass­ing school and uni­ver­si­ty my heart still warms up to the mem­o­ries of my great and kind teach­ers Lak­sh­ma­iah B., Rasheedul Hasan, Prof. Wahidud­din, Hash­math­ul­lah to name a few.

  • Karam Youssef says:

    Thank you for this oppor­tu­ni­ty. I have many teach­ers to remem­ber dear­ly but one teacher in my ele­men­tary school stands out in spe­cial place in my heart is Ms. Fawqeya Al Moug­hazy. She was so kind and car­ing about me. With­out her I would­n’t have been the per­son I am now.
    I will always have her in my heart with so much affec­tion and respect.

  • Frederick Sandall says:

    Great to hear the beau­ti­ful let­ter sent by Albert Camus to his teacher and a bonus to hear Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch read­ing it too!
    I think we all have our teach­ers to thank even those whom we didn’t like that much! Luck­i­ly I had some real­ly ded­i­cat­ed teach­ers but I also learned from those who were lazy and not as ded­i­cat­ed too! I learned how NOT to teach as well as how to inspire!
    I am proud of my teach­ing career, if I am allowed to say that, and am also for­tu­nate to have received com­ments from pupils whom I have taught some­thing. I have also tried to pass on my expe­ri­ence to oth­ers with some suc­cess I hope! Remem­ber teach­ers will nev­er be ful­ly aware of the poten­tial impact they have on their stu­dents. So make sure that impact is as pos­i­tive as pos­si­ble!

  • Anne Madison says:

    Mrs. Murtha, the librar­i­an at George Mason School. I arrived there for the start of fifth grade and was almost imme­di­ate­ly sub­ject to bul­ly­ing from all sorts of kids. I sim­ply pulled into a shell and would not emerge. Mrs. Murtha noticed how much I loved to read, and she would set aside books for me. On library days she would pull me aside and say, “I saw this when it came in and thought you might enjoy it.” or “Would you like to read this new book and tell me what you think?”

    I owe her first of all a life­time love of read­ing and a desire and abil­i­ty to explore books with my chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. But I also owe her thanks for her warmth, kind­ness, and accep­tance of a ter­ri­fied ten year old who found a warm wel­come in the library. I will nev­er for­get her.

  • Rebecca Duncan says:

    Sharon Lord. My 11th grade Eng­lish teacher who encour­aged a depressed con­fused teenag­er more than I can express.

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