About ten minutes ago I learned a professor I had from January to March passed away nearly two months ago.
Yes, I saw it coming to some extent. Her physical appearance looked like that of a drug addict. Her coughs screamed of immune diseases. She wreaked of terrible perfume masking…. smoke?
But still, she seemed too lively to die. She was by no means old. I couldn’t quite mark her age but maybe early sixties, as she herself spoke of fond times in the sixties! I do think she was hiding something from us. Sickness or maybe something bigger was a weakness.
She taught only one of the two quarter CTW class she was supposed to. And of the quarter she did teach, she did not stick to any sort of plan or curriculum. Her plan was to teach us to find passion and appreciation for writing; To look at it with fresh eyes instead of double-space, page count, blank-white-screen strain.
Although I questioned her ways and her sanity (I called her crazy hippy lady…but not to anyone at SCU!), it did work. I loved how she picked on people in the strangest ways, like those twisted “progressive era” comparisons. While I had mediocre work ethic, I loved hearing her criticize our overdone, uncreative messes. The harsh love turned our messes into stories with perspective and depth. We might not have learned how to construct the best scholarly essays, but we learned that writing doesn’t have to be seen as evil. We learned that writing can literally take you places. To different times and locations. We learned it can pay bills, support causes, raise money and more. We learned to take it seriously and add heart, for writing speaks for people.
She connected with students like few other professors I have seen. There was a constant banter in the classroom. She let us argue our grade with the skills we learned- persuasive language, critical thinking, perspective, and passion. She took us to Sara’s Kitchen for the last day of class. She pitched in to cover part of our bills. She told us to ponder whether or not the ways of business and picking career paths based on money align with the school’s (and our own) core values. She told us she would take us to Benihana December 7, 2014 and invite the Dean of the Business school to discuss the findings of our thinking.
Fast forward to Spring quarter: Our new, young, hip, Polish, Stanford-grad-student professor mentioned that we might want to stop by the Hub as she got an email from Dolores that suggested she may not be teaching the coming year (this school year). As awkward and selfish and preoccupied as I was, I did not dare visit the crazy lady who taught me nothing formal in that easy class last quarter.
But I should have.
Because now we will no longer get to reunite at Benihana in 2014, unless it is thrown together “in her honor.”
And trust me, the eleven other guys and one other girl that were in that class with me could not be on different pages of life here at SCU.
But we all loved her sassy, crazy personality.
We all have the sharpest memories from her class.
And we all learned to love writing a little more.
And I think that’s all the thought it would take to earn Benihana with Dolores.
I went back in my email- Here’s her last email to our class, written March 14, 2013:
“…some final words from your CTW1 instructor”
Dear CTW1 Students,
Aside from the learning outcomes articulated in the CTW1: from Muckrakers to Freakonomics syllabus, I wanted CTW1 to make you think like writers.
As such, writers know they can’t treat their writing, their ideas, like an academic exercise…something to rush through the night before.
Writers know they must treat their ideas with respect: making absolutely sure their facts are accurate, their conclusions well supported, their words and sentences mechanically perfect.
Writers know to write what they mean, to mean what they write is a process, for every writer needs to understand the value of revising…rethinking, of carefully crafting their prose.
To this end, I think you all are well on your way.
Whatever your major, whatever your career goals, if you can write well, if you can read like writers, your lives will be enriched.
Think about how difficult it was to piece together your family history. What about your grandchildren, great-grandchildren? What of your words will you leave for them? Letters? Journals? Stories? Or even the simple questions of your life?
Think about all the written assignments you’ll complete at Santa Clara. Do they represent your best effort?Anything less is cheating…………yourself.
Think about the written applications you’ll make whether for graduate school, a job, an internship, etc. Will your represent your best self on the pages you submit or will you establish yourself as part of the blur of average?
Idealistic? Of course, but getting an education is one of the most idealistic things we can do.
Why do you think this is true?
I’m excited and so pleased your CTW2 instructor will make sure the course belongs to both of you…to her as the designer, teacher, to you as writers and learners. I’m also excited that you will be reading The Economist,where you’ll find all kinds of interesting ideas and some pretty good writing. I’m pleased you will be doing formal research, for you will learn a structure that you will use throughout your undergraduate education and beyond. And I have given her my word the effort you put forth in CTW1 is even less than the effort she will see from you in CTW2.
I’m proud of you for working hard, for coming to class, and for your ability to know it’s all about the words on the page…nothing more, nothing less, but then, in a very real way, that’s everything.
Don’t forget: 7 December 2014, dinner at BeneHana, where we will explore the juxtaposition and push-pull between being far and looking to the bottom line.