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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