When Christin Gilmer was a student in Judy Toensing's Yuma, Ariz., sixth-grade class, her teacher left her a note in the margins of her report card.
"It has been a joy to have you in class," the note read. "Keep up the good work! Invite me to your Harvard graduation!”
That was in 1997. More than two decades later, Toensing got a note back from her former student that left her "shocked, flabbergasted (and) humbled," according to CNN.
It was a letter from Harvard, hand-delivered by Gilmer, inviting her to attend the convocation ceremony where her former student, now 33-years-old, would receive a doctorate in public health.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"She lit a fire in me that helping people is a powerful tool, and through education, you can better serve populations in need. I will never forget her passion for others," Gilmer told KYMA.
She wrote in a thank you note on Facebook that Toensing had been one of the first people to spark her interest in public health.
"Of these many amazing heroes, I met one of these teachers in the sixth grade, Ms. Judy Toensing, who taught me about current events, global health, and human rights," GIlmer wrote. "She was the first person who passionately conveyed the plight of people living with HIV/AIDS to me and started me on this journey."
In their class, the students also completed an intensive project looking at recycling in their town for which they interviewed the mayor, KYMA reported.
The story of Toensing's report card note caught the eye of Harvard school officials, who helped arrange a way for the teacher to go to Harvard from Yuma, where she still teaches sixth-and eighth-grade social studies, according to CNN.
"I thank you for your work—and the work of so many other teachers at every grade level. It is so immeasurably important," Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Dean Michelle Williams said at the ceremony.
"You don’t just teach young people. You inspire them, and you propel them along a path of fulfillment and service to others. Your work is what makes our work possible. Thank you for everything you do, and please keep sending students our way!"
Toensing said she knew Gilmer would find success.
"I have high expectations of all my students, so to hear that Christin had achieved this goal did not surprise me in the least," Toensing told CNN. "I feel honored that Harvard chose to tell Christin's story, her journey, and that I was a small part of that journey."
Gilmer told CNN she wants to move back to Arizona to work in health, politics, and community development.