In Loving Memory of Madame: A Tribute to Sonya Rotman from Members of the Class of 2017

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In Loving Memory of Madame: A Tribute to Sonya Rotman from Members of the Class of 2017

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Mme. Rotman was a unique and wonderful person. She would go out of her way to check in with her students, teaching with both compassion and love.

One sweet thing that reminds me of her essence is how she brought in chocolate because, as she always said, speaking French is like eating chocolate. While most of the time her class consisted of textbook exercises, videos, or Le Petit Prince, when Mme. couldn’t get our complete attention, she’d climb on a chair to seem taller and more powerful than us. But then when she would try to yell, she would burst out laughing because it was so unlike her. Whenever I saw Mme. in the halls, I’d always stop and make sure to say “Bonjour!” One day, a year after I was in her class, she cornered me in the hallway to let me know she had seen some of my current work in French and how proud she was of it. She never stopped caring and letting me know how much faith she had in me, even long after I left her classroom. “What matters most are the simple pleasures so abundant that we can all enjoy them…Happiness doesn’t lie in the objects we gather around us. To find it, all we need to do is open our eyes” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince). Thank you for opening our eyes, Mme. Rotman. You will forever be in our hearts.

No one else could care so fiercely, teach with so

much forgiveness, and will each of us to succeed as much as Mme. Rotman did. She wanted nothing less than the best for each and every one of us. She called us her children, and treated us as if we were her family. Mme. was one of those teachers whom you know is genuinely invested in you and your future as a person. She did nothing half-heartedly or without the best intentions. Most strikingly, she saw the best in all of us. She pushed us to do more than we ever thought ourselves capable of.

Her desire to shield everyone from knowledge of her illness is emblematic of her. She spread brightness and joy in bursts of color. Her love of the French language and culture was effusive and evident in everything she did. She guided us through Sartre and Voltaire, bringing in her own props and rehearsing the same scenes countless times with us to prepare for performances of French plays. She demanded the best for her students– the best croissants, the best chocolates, the best cafés we could find on our field trips. We practiced verb tenses and sentence structures until our heads were filled with -ais and -ait endings and then finished class by screaming the lyrics to modern French songs. Through her, we learned to embrace a culture that was not ours, a culture that we came to love nearly as much as she did. Mme. Rotman, you were a gorgeous soul, and we miss you dearly. Thank you for everything you have done for us.

Mme Rotman taught me to love languages for the sake of their beauty and their depth – for the ways in which they could teach us empathy for those who spoke them. French was more than a series of grammatical exercises to her, it was rather a window into distant cultures and histories. While the subjunctive tense has faded in my memory, the quotes we analyzed over and over from Le Petit Prince have stuck with me strongly. Mme Rotman taught me what it means to see with heart and not eyes, to cherish the value of childhood and friendships. The very friendships formed in Mme’s class are among those I hold closest today. Thank you for bringing us together over chocolate and cheese, laughter and good company. Rest easy, Mme. – I’ll look up to the stars and imagine you laughing among them with the little prince.

Mme. Rotman inspired a love for French and French culture among her students, but she also created a family of French-language learners. Many of my fondest memories from Horace Mann come from within her classroom, peppered with quotes from the literature we’d study and equipped with a closet full of costumes ready for our litany of comical French skits. Maître Gims’ “Bella” and Zaz’ “Je Veux” are two of my favorite songs thanks to Mme., as are the accompanying recollections of obnoxiously belting them in and outside of her classroom with mes amis – not the average group of peers. It’s hard to pick just one memory, but to have known Mme., her classroom and the compassionate spirit she drew out of everyone around her, fills me with warmth. « Toutes les grandes personnes ont d’abord été des enfants, mais peu d’entre elles s’en souviennent », writes Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in Le Petit Prince, but Madame was one of the few to remember.

Mme. shaped my school experience. She was quick witted, sharp, fierce, hilarious. She pushed her students beyond their comfort zones and into fluency. She had a sweet tooth and loved chocolate., bringing chocolate in a basket to class, she’d cry, “les petits chocolats pour mes bebes!” I always thought it funny a woman as tough as Mme. – who often spoke about her experiences in Soviet Russia – would melt if someone simply mentioned the word “chocolat,” and The fourth floor of Tillinghast will forever be marked by the smell of Mme.’s signature perfume. This is a profoundly upsetting loss.

Mme.’s Students from the Class of 2017