First Person: Turning students into philosophers

Shaina Meier (courtesy photo)


In January, beloved longtime Geyserville teacher Brad Goodhart passed away. Shaina Meier graduated from Geyserville High School and was asked to speak at his memorial service less than 24 hours before her first class at UC Berkeley as a spring-admit freshman. This was her tribute to her favorite teacher.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today

Tomorrow will be dying.

That stanza is from the poem “To the virgins, to make much of time” by Robert Herrick. I was a senior in Mr. Goodhart’s AP English class at Geyserville High School when he gave everyone a copy of this poem and sat down with us to study it.

Being high school students, at first our reaction was to laugh at the mere mention of the word “virgin.” But I don’t think it was until recently that any of us truly understood what he was trying to teach us that day. Because as high school students, we didn’t yet understand the true meaning of mortality.

We couldn’t wrap our minds around the idea that someone who was so influential and so cherished in our lives could be there one day and gone the next. But I think we understand now. We understand that what this poem was trying to rally out of us was an epic cry of “Carpe diem.” Seize the day.

And I don’t think anyone embodied this philosophy better or more passionately than Mr. Goodhart.

He lived more lives than any one of us can hope to. I know the highlight of every one of his classes was his own annotations to the textbooks. Biology is infinitely more interesting when spiced up with a story of how your teacher fought a chimpanzee in the African wilderness.

None of us will ever stop retelling the story of how he stopped an African soldier from attacking a woman by feigning friendship and getting the soldier epically drunk.

Marine Bio was occasionally put on pause to tell us the story of how he knew the particular researcher from the film we were watching, and how he had taught him astronomy while leading a whale watch.

He wasn’t afraid to embrace new things in order to garner appreciation for the classics. When reading Shakespeare, we always accompanied it with a film version or two, and when the movie “The Great Gatsby” hit theaters, we not only read the book but went on a field trip to see the movie.

And afterwards, around pizza, we had the most intellectual conversations about the film’s adaptation from the literature.

He had the incredible ability to make ordinary high school students into philosophers. It wasn’t as if we suddenly came to great revelations, but more that he told us that our theories and opinions were worth discussion. That there were more ways to look at something than just what the textbook said.

He made an impact on so many students, simply by making them feel that their thoughts were valid and intelligent, in a world where we are expected to let others think for us.

Who else would have us drop our physics final off a bridge? Or let us spend an entire day seeing what colors different metals turned when lit on fire?

Mr. Goodhart was a gem among not only teachers, but among human beings. He was one of the most compassionate, intelligent, fascinating people I have ever had the good fortune of knowing, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put into words how deeply he has touched not only my life, but the lives of so many people all around the world.

I’ll leave you with a few words by Longfellow, to remind us all that even though his physical presence is no longer with us, Mr. Goodhart will continue to change lives every day for the rest of eternity.

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time.

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “A Psalm of Life”