In my email to her, one thing I noted was teachers, in many ways, never get to know who their students actually are. I was attempting to explain to her that while I don't know her life story, the impression she gives me is of someone who is both reserved in her conduct, yet strong in her will. Of course, I don't always know if that's accurate. We see the performance they put on for us in class. We judge them mainly by their work and conduct, and if we're lucky, we fill in the gaps with other bits of conversation. Sometimes our estimates are spot on, but most of the time we're only seeing a sliver of this person's persona. I've been wrong many times when I hear certain students get in trouble and think "wow, they're never like that in my class" or when a student wins an award and I think "I've never heard him say a word". We over and underestimate students all the time.
In some ways, though, this is a good thing. There's an old quote that "you should never get to know someone too well" because eventually you'll find something you don't like. I think back to high school and how I probably "fooled" a few of my math teachers into thinking I was a good student...even though I was just ok. (Full disclosure: by the time calculus rolled around, I wasn't able to fool her anymore). Students choose to hide certain aspects of themselves from us as teachers, and perhaps that's ok too. If we knew and were forced to judge based on everything, that might work against us too.
Regardless, I'm hoping my guesses on this student were accurate and she ultimately rises to the occasion and takes the TED stage next week. Of course, even if I'm wrong, I hope she'll at least pretend I was right and see if through.