They say it is never too late to say sorry - and Michael Gove has tested that theory by apologising to his teacher for being a "clever dick" 30 years ago.
The Education Secretary wrote an open letter to Danny Montgomery, who taught him languages when he was a pupil at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen.
Mr Gove, now at the very top of the Tory party, said sorry for lurking at the back of the room, asking "clever-dick questions" and indulging in "pathetic showing off".
The letter, published in the Radio Times, says: "It may be too late to say I'm sorry. Thirty years too late. But since apologies from politicians are considered as rare as away wins for Queen's Park Rangers, I hope you will accept mine.
"Because when I look back at the 15-year-old I was, lurking at the back of your French class at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, I cringe.
"You were trying, patiently, doggedly, good-humouredly, to broaden our horizons. You were, without any pretension or pomposity, attempting to coax a group of hormonal lads to look beyond familiar horizons and venture further.
"You weren't just dinning irregular verbs into our heads, you were opening up a different way of seeing. And all we could do was compete to think of clever-dick questions to embarrass you and indulge in pathetic showing-off at your expense."
Mr Gove, 45, wrote that Mr Montgomery had been passionate about French and German but had to deal with a "cocksure crew of precociously assertive boys".
Realising their teacher was only a few years older and a "rookie in the classroom", they decided he was "ripe for ragging", the minister said.
"As I've grown up - and become a father myself - my gratitude only grows. To you, and to everyone else in your profession," he added.
The message to the teacher appeared to be an attempt to show that the minister appreciates the work of all teachers and offset criticism of his education policies.
Mr Montgomery said the letter had "intrigued" him and recalled that even as a child, Mr Gove had stood out from peers and been marked for a career in politics
"I remember the words of one of my colleagues at the time: 'That boy is a future leader of the Conservative Party'," he said.
"This raised a few eyebrows in the staff room but also more than a few nods of agreement from one or two of my more experienced colleagues.
"He was already known for his sharp wit, strongly held beliefs backed by apparently limitless general knowledge and keen debating skills, which resulted in the downfall of many opponents."