When I arrived in Japan in 1995, Hiromi was a sixth-grader at an elementary school at which I taught once a week.
Hers was just one face in a sea of children.
I first met her when she was a seventh-grader the following year at the junior high at which I was based. She was a very clever, introspective student with a burning desire to see and experience the world around her and the world beyond the horizon.
This year, she graduated from college.
On Tuesday, I'm picking her up at JFK Airport in New York as she begins a one-year intensive program in English language studies at a school in Manhattan. She'll be living either in Brooklyn or Staten Island with a homestay family.
It's staggering to me that so much time has passed so quickly.
We've been in sporadic contact over the years. When I returned to Japan in 2004, I made a point of getting together with her, her mother and her younger sister, who I also taught in elementary school.
I feel old, but proud.
Hiromi's continuing interest in English suggests that what I thought was a futile effort to get junior high kids (who were every bit as rowdy and obnoxious as their U.S. counterparts) to be interested in a culture other than their own wasn't a waste of time at all.
To that one face in a sea of children, I made a difference.