One of the last conversations I had with Tom took place in the doorway of the Office of Academic Affairs, where I have been working for a few years, having been a full time faculty member in the Speech and Theatre Department before that. Tom asked if he could schedule me for the Monday evening acting class which runs each fall. I told him I couldn’t do it again—I was so busy, and I found that it felt harder and harder to teach each year. He told me that it was very important that I continue to teach, that it was crucial that I continue to know the students of our college through the classroom to best inform me as an administrator. I was persuaded by his conviction, or perhaps, I just didn’t want to disagree in front of Carol and Margot who were standing there, and just didn’t want to argue, and I am so thankful that I didn’t, as this semester has been a very healing one for me. My students are so extraordinary this semester, and I am learning so much from them. Tom was always looking out for me, never ceased mentoring me, and always guided me in the right direction.
A number of years ago, I taught a speech class in which I gave the students a self-inventory exercise designed to provoke them to create speeches came out of their most deeply felt experiences. One of the inventory questions was about mentors, and a student named Patrick began writing about Tom Smith in the inventory, developing the exercise into an essay. Tom had discovered that Patrick intended to be a film maker, and took a great interest in him, spent time with him researching transfer opportunities with him, and connected him to more advanced students. Patrick in about paragraph 3 of his essay said something like “Dr. Smith is a noble man.”
This stopped me.
For one, in that I found the use of the word ‘noble’ when speaking about anyone,
And then, because I realized that I had to agree.
Tom was noble.
When I shared the essay with Tom, I pointed the sentence out to him. I waited for the inevitable sardonic reply for which Tom was so well known. But he too stopped, and took it in and said something like “this makes it all worthwhile. This is why I will never leave the classroom.” “There’s no word in the language I revere more than ‘teacher.” Pat Conroy in Prince of Tides wrote, “My heart sings when a kid refers to me as his teacher, and it always has. I’ve honored myself and the entire family of man by becoming a teacher.” Thank you, Dr.Smith, for honoring us here for a little while.