Etymonline informs us that legacy (n.) derives from the Medieval Latin ‘legacie, “body of persons sent on a mission”‘. Meanwhile, the Cambridge Dictionary defines legacy in a number of ways, including ‘something that is the result of events in the past’ and ‘something that is part of your history or remains from an earlier time’. When we think about legacy we are referring to something that can cross time and space.
It seems to me that when we talk about legacy, we are often thinking about our own legacy: what will we leave behind, what will remain of us after we’re gone, what will be the impact of our existence. In ‘Sonnet 55’, Shakespeare erects a ‘living record’ of the memory of the addressee, suggesting that he can create a textual legacy that will outlive the marble and monuments built by princes. The text lives, yet the addressee is anonymous and forgotten. Larkin meditates on the permanence of stone monuments and how the legacy they create can differ from the reality for which they were created in ‘An Arundel Tomb‘. Legacy, perhaps by definition, is something outside of our control. Did the Ancient Greeks intend to leave behind their ideas about philosophy and politics as a legacy? Did the Romans imagine that fifteen centuries after the fall of the Rome, there would be over 900 million native speakers of languages that evolved from Latin?
My brief reflection on legacy will be written from the opposite perspective. About a year ago, I wrote about the impact that my teachers had on me and so it seems fitting that this year I should write here about a group of students whose legacy stays with me. This week marked International Transgender Day of Visibility and I recalled the student I taught many years ago who came out as trans to our form group. It was a planned moment and I had offered to say or do whatever the student needed. ‘That’s OK, I’ll be fine sir’ he told me. And then succinctly explained his identity to his peers who listened carefully, accepted him unhesitatingly and then got on with their morning. His deep self-awareness and impressive self-confidence, along with the way that my tutor group took the announcement in their stride, have left their legacy: students can always surprise us and the capacity of teenagers to be empathetic and caring more than makes a mockery of the stereotypes of the aloof adolescent.