Sometimes, the most comforting words can come from someone you barely know.
In the days leading into the Fresno State fall semester, senior Gabriela Blanco considered quitting school.
And some might not have faulted her if she had.
Blanco was shaken by the sudden news that her mother’s leukemia treatment was no longer working and Maria Blanco would be placed in hospice care.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Fresno Bee
“She wasn’t just my mother,” Blanco said. “My mom was my best friend.
“How was I supposed to deal with school when this is happening?”
Instead of dropping out, though, Blanco decided to tough things out and hesitantly remained in school.
But she had to ask her professors if they’d excuse her absence for the first few weeks to be with her mom during her final days.
Two professors confirmed it’d be fine while keeping their message short.
Another professor, Dr. Michael Botwin, responded with a few sentences that Blanco said comforted her during the difficult time.
On the morning Blanco eventually learned her mother would pass away, the Fresno State student read the psychology professor’s e-mail aloud to her family at the hospital and caused their eyes to swell.
“I am so very sorry to hear about your mother,” Botwin wrote. “I will keep you and your family in my thoughts.
“There are some things far more important than school, and you need to be with your family now. I will not drop you from class, just come and see me to get a handle on class when you can.”
A few hours later, Blanco’s mother died.
“Dr. Botwin’s response fortified me that I could do this,” Blanco said. “I was this close to giving up and someone gave me the words of encouragement to pick myself up.”
About a week later, Blanco e-mailed her professors that she would be attending their classes for the first time in the semester.
To which Botwin replied: “Again my deepest condolences on your mother’s passing. I understand you may want to jump back in the school as you don’t want to get too far behind.
“However, I am guessing you still really (are) going through a whole lot of stuff and I don’t blame you if you wanted to hold off another week. ...
“You are naturally excused from this exam and will receive a makeup,” Botwin continued in his e-mail. “My only assignment to you at this time is to take care of yourself as you best see fit.”
Blanco was so moved by Botwin’s compassion and words of encouragement, she took screen shots of her e-mail exchange with the Fresno State professor and shared them on social media.
“Professors like THIS make going to school at Fresno State worth it,” Blanco wrote on Twitter, which was accompanied by the screen shots. “I haven’t even met him yet and I owe him a huge chunk of my sanity.”
Blanco has less than 400 followers, but her tweet ended up generating more than 3,500 likes and close to 700 retweets.
And those who replied back to Blanco often applauded the professor and praised his character.
“This made me tear up,” wrote Alyssa Gil. “I’m so happy you have such an amazing professor.”
Botwin could not be reached for comment for this story.
Blanco added he isn’t like most professors.
“He looked past the student, and the professor-student relationship, and just remembered that we are all humans,” Blanco said. “That’s what separates him from any other professor or teacher that I’ve ever had.
“He’s just a special person. I want to thank him for making my nightmare situation a little easier to get through.”