My friend and colleague Viv rang me at night to tell me Hiroshi had died. He had cancer. It is a horrible feeling hearing that a former student has died. It doesn't feel right that a young man can die before getting the chance to have a good crack at life. There was a very sombre and sad mood among those of us who taught Hiroshi.

Hiroshi was special. As a teacher of many years and institutions, the faces blur and names are forgotten as new classes replace the old each year. It is easy to become jaded and cynical after years in the classroom. It takes a student like Hiroshi to cause you to remember and appreciate why you got into teaching.

Hiroshi was in the home room in Year 9. This was a group with learning difficulties who worked with a specialist teacher. I encountered him when he was in Year 11 and taught him for three years.

He was not a top academic or an elite sportsman. He was not a cool dude or class clown. He was a quiet, humble young man from a family that was less than affluent. It would be disrespectful of me to suggest they were poor because any family that could produce a young man like Hiroshi must have a certain richness.

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What made Hiroshi special was entirely attitude. It is a number of years since I taught him yet I remember him with clear distinction, which is not the case with other, sometimes more academically gifted students. He had sheer grit.

Hiroshi was absolutely determined to succeed in his studies. It is rare to encounter such studious determination in a young Kiwi male.

Despite his name, Hiroshi was Kiwi to the core. He worked his way through every exercise in the books that we used, even if they were not assigned. During class, Hiroshi's hand would go up if he needed something clarified.

It is disconcerting when a student listens with such intensity, particularly when teaching economics where you are always contradicting yourself.

In Year 13, he was in a class with a number of gentlemen of ample proportions who played for the 1st XV. Their passion in the scrum did not always translate well into the classroom. Many of them didn't share my enthusiasm for a well-drawn demand-and-supply curve.

Yet they treated Hiroshi with respect. They didn't mock his obvious desire to succeed in the subject. They seemed to appreciate learning didn't always come easily for him but admired him for his determination. By the end of the year, several would sit with him in an effort to master the content they also struggled with. Their success in the final exam was likely due to his example and assistance.

Hiroshi set his sights on achieving a scholarship pass in economics. This is the top academic prize in our schooling system. I doubted he could achieve at this level but certainly wasn't going to tell him that. At the end of each lesson, he would approach me with points he wanted clarified. My tuck-shop bill plummeted.

Hiroshi didn't achieve a scholarship. He did pass all his external exams at level 3 through sheer grit and determination. I am relieved when any of my students pass. He told me that he was off to Victoria University to do a law degree. I knew he would struggle to get into law school but would persist with determination until he did. I thought he would make a great lawyer because those who struggle with adversity often have the greatest empathy for others. He asked me if I was disappointed that he wasn't pursuing his studies in economics. I reassured him that few of my students ever do. He laughed.

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I have taught future All Blacks, Black Caps and Treasury economists. Hiroshi was a student who stands out among them for attitude and character. Schools are institutions but they are also communities. Our community is much poorer for his loss.

Hiroshi's name is not up on any honours board at school. He was not a top sportsman or academic but he left his mark on those of us who taught him.

Rest in peace, Hiroshi.

Peter Lyons teaches at St Peter's College in Epsom.