It’s impossible for teachers to know which of their students over the years will go on and do great things, but sometimes a teenager’s character stands out so strongly they make an impression.
Such was the case with Adam Yauch, also known as MCA of the legendary Beastie Boys. Yauch was a Murrow High School student (1600 Avenue L) – a quiet one, at that – but he made a lasting impression with at least one instructor.
Judith List taught English at Murrow from 1978 to 2007. Yauch was in her class, and upon hearing of his death last week, she broke out into tears.
Thirty years after seeing him last, List penned a recollection of her time with Yauch for Murrow’s website, inspired by MCA’s lesson to her about all students. “We can never know which of our students will bring about the next revolution or create the next new idea and inspire a generation,” she wrote. “Therefore we must passionately believe that every student will surely be the next one to move us all forward and bring us that unwavering message of hope.”
In the piece, she remembers Yauch as a sweet, quiet boy – not the best student, she says, but a very human one.
Adam was my student in Writer’s Workshop. I can still remember where he sat, near the window in the front of the class in 210A. He was thin and so his jeans and sweaters always seemed big on him. That year Adam seemed to grow much taller, and his face became more masculine and less of a boy’s face. He was quiet and unassuming, but always a presence in the class. Was he an angel and an ideal student? No. But then, I never did favor those angelic types!! But I’ll tell you what he was: Adam Yauch was a regular kid, who sometimes needed to be pushed to do his homework—but not always, and sometimes came late—but not often, and who ultimately worked and learned some stuff about reading and writing in my class. He liked his fellow students, he enjoyed a good laugh, and he had depth and humanity, even then. When we discussed biographies for book reports, Adam read and wrote about Tony Hawk, the superstar skateboarder. Thirty years later I still remember it for its unbridled admiration of Hawk’s talents, and for his respect for Hawk’s philanthropy and good character. It never surprised me that Adam himself became a man of prodigious talent and who was concerned with people and philanthropy.
Often Adam and I would ride the subway together, as we lived on the same Brooklyn street. On those rides home from school, he spoke about his band and the gigs they were starting to get. One day he excitedly told me that his band would soon be getting a record contract. I really liked this kid, and so I cautioned him about not being too disappointed if it didn’t work out, and that he sure had plenty of time to find success. Oh boy, was I wrong! Adam and the Beastie Boys became, well… you know how great and influential they were.
… I still see Adam’s sweet face in the classroom, at the age of 16 or so, writing from the heart whenever possible.