How to give meaningful gifts to a thesis committee that saved my life?
August 19, 2017 12:00 AM   Subscribe

My thesis committee for my creative writing MFA, made up of two fiction writers and a poet, saved my life last year. In the depths of depression, about to abandon school forever, they invited me to their homes, fed me dinner, talked with me late into the night, helped me finish my thesis and defense, and recommended me for future jobs in academia. Back on my feet and newly graduated, what in the world kind of gifts could I think to give to such learned scholars and wonderful people who truly went above and beyond for me? A thank you card doesn't seem like enough and none of them drink. Please help!
posted by anonymous to Education (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I just writing that in your thank you notes would be amazing, and as for gifts, what are their interests? You could get them some each a gift certificate for a massage, or tickets to the local botanical garden or museum or zoo, some type of nice experience that would bring joy.
posted by cakebatter at 12:41 AM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dedicate a book to them!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:55 AM on August 19, 2017 [11 favorites]

I've taken in acquaintances in crisis before, and the thing that's meant the most to me afterwards was just hearing that it helped and they're doing better. A thank-you card written with real sincerity will probably count for more than you think.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:41 AM on August 19, 2017 [14 favorites]

As a former teacher (although not at the graduate level), I can say that the most meaningful gifts of gratitude I ever received were heartfelt notes/letters from students or their parents that specifically called out the ways that they felt I'd made a difference to them. I honestly don't remember items that I received as gifts but I still have every card and letter.
posted by bookmammal at 4:28 AM on August 19, 2017 [8 favorites]

Agreeing that a heartfelt note is the best gift.

Get some nice paper and envelopes. Draft out your message on scratch paper/your computer until you have it perfect, then copy it out as neatly as you can. If you want, you can add something small like fancy chocolate or hand lotion, but that's really not necessary - the words are the important thing. I still can't look at the box of notes my students gave me without tearing up, in a good way.
posted by Tamanna at 4:51 AM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I agree that a heartfelt note is best, BUT since you feel it won't cut it (and I get that--I was in a similar position once and am very much a gift-giver), how abut a gift certificate to a local independent bookstore? I gave that to one of my former writing faculty and she was over the moon.
posted by stillmoving at 5:07 AM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Follow their careers and lives closely. They have become part of the tribe of people who will always matter to you. Therefore when one of them releases a new book in 2023 you will know it. And when one of them is banged up in a car accident in 2019 you will know it. And when one of them passes away in 2038 you will know it. And when one of their kids starts uni at the school in your city you will know it. And you will provide, however much support you can from where ever you are at that time.

It may be that in 2023 you will only send a quick note saying, "Congratulations to the best damn mentor ever!" and it may be that in 2019 you will be on the wrong side of the continent, so you will send a note saying, "Feel so very upset about George. Wish I could be there to do SOMETHING, anything, so I went and donated blood today. Please recover fast!" and in 2038 you will send the widower a month's worth of meal deliveries since again you are on the wrong side of the continent, or maybe just write a long heartfelt tribute on the funeral home memorial tribute page if you are flat broke. But you will reach out again. And the month that Sydnyi is due to move into residence you will get in touch with they's parents and volunteer to be a in-the-same-city alloparent/peer, if they want to introduce you, to take Sydnyi out for coffee once a month and be a local resource.

Failing that - after all my first suggestion may be way too difficult if your mentors are private people and keeping in touch with them would require stalking or that kind of organization is too much of a challenge for you as it would be for many people - set your long-term calendar with a couple of reminders and send some delayed thank you letters to them, a year and two years and a decade later. Write them when you send them telling them how what they did then still has an impact on you at the time when you write.

The thing about prompt thank-yous is that they reveal that you are nicely brought up and you have to do them and you should do them, but they don't necessarily show that you meant it because they are an obligation. So you want to find something to do that they will very much NOT expect you to do. Just as you said, Wow, I did NOT expect that, you want them to say, Wow, I did NOT expect that. And that is where the delayed thank you comes in. It shows that you are not thanking them because you consulted an etiquette book, and the etiquette book had a template for thank you letters, you are thanking them because there is a feeling in the pit of your stomach that says, omg, you guys are the best.

Delayed gifting is a very good way to make an impact. When someone dies for example, the family is often flooded with flowers and casseroles. A month later the flowers have withered, the casseroles in the freezer are down to aubergine or freezer burned bean-with bean-and-bean (human version of dwarf bread) and the family is likely to be trying to get traction to go back to their old lives. And often any numbness they had is beginning to wear off and the idea that oh-God-this-is-my-life-now is beginning to sink in. This is when sympathy phone calls and invitations to dinner are most effective, not when they were one of seven phone calls received on Tuesday night after we got back from the funeral home. The same thing with a pair of newly weds. Wait a month, then contact and say, "I owe you a wedding present, what did you not get that you still desperately want, and do you need any help with any last thank you cards?"
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:48 AM on August 19, 2017 [30 favorites]

As a teacher I'm cosigning the thank you letter. We love that stuff.
Also, you can pay it forward.
There are countless elementary school libraries that would love new books donated in your mentors' names. So head out to your local bookstore and find some books that remind you of your mentors - autobiographies, inspirational stories, funny and silly life lesson books. Most libraries will put a book plate in the inside cover saying who donated the book as well. Somewhere in the note you plan to write include: "To thank you for all of your help and care, I've donated A$ books to the Nora Charles Elementary School Library. Not only did you help me to succeed in my field, but now others can benefit from your generosity." (Ok, I've only had one cuppa joe, so that's not that good, but with a little wordsmithing, it could be.)

Or you could donate to a charity they are involved in?
posted by NoraCharles at 7:02 AM on August 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Apparently they don't hate your writing :) Seriously, write something. That would be incredibly meaningful.

It could be a gift to others who read it, too. It can be so helpful to read about people being kind to other people when the world seems hard.

Then, too, if they saw you trying to repay their kindness by using your gift to help others, and acknowledging them in the process, I think it would be exquisite.
posted by amtho at 9:03 AM on August 19, 2017

notes and letters, for sure!

aside from the lovely suggestions in this thread: if you'd like something tangible, consider getting them a little something for their desk/office. a mug, a nice pen, one of those leather book weights that help keep a page propped open. letters are wonderful, but a little keepsake that's always around could be just the thing to cheer them up and keep them going on a hard day, reminding them of your success and the importance of all that they do for their students!
posted by halation at 9:57 AM on August 19, 2017

A student I helped in 1998 gave me a little philodendron and I still have it. I kill all plants, except that one. I look at it every day, nearabouts. In the aggregate, she's helped me (and by extension whoever I've since helped--no idea, but because of that plant, I know it's probably not zero) a thousandfold more than I helped her.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:41 AM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Christ, this is amazing! I can't imagine any gift going wrong. Something permanent might be better though, than edible things - I would give a book that you think would appeal to the person maybe. I do love the dedication idea too.
posted by benadryl at 2:32 PM on August 19, 2017

Letter and notes from students are among the most precious things I own. Seriously far more important than the gift!
posted by Heloise9 at 2:53 PM on August 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

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