Eulogy for My Mentor

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,

unusual.

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.

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2 responses to “Eulogy for My Mentor

  1. I am so glad that I found this post. By the end, I found myself crying because, indeed, he was a noble man.

    I was a student at Queensborough Community College. I was supposed to graduate last Spring (’10), but due to a credit mixup, had to stay an extra semester in order to complete my degree. I just needed one class, but also needed financial aid, so I filled up my schedule with various classes hoping it would go by as quickly as possible. One of these classes was film history with Prof. Smith.

    I found myself at ease in his classroom and often times, stayed later after the other students left just chatting to him about various films and my interest in pursuing Costume Design. He was so extremely supportive and so encouraging. After I graduated and started attending the Fashion Institute of Technology, I decided to take another film class but somehow did not find it as mesmerizing. I realized it was because I yearned for the conversations I had with him. So, I decided to e-mail him and we kept active contact with me (I asked for advice as to where I should go study, as I decided that I wanted to be a film history major because of him but still wanted to be a costume designer). He recommended books that I eagerly purchased, and I hoped to see him again in the near future (I wanted to audit his class, but my new school schedule did not make that a reality).

    I was out of the country (Israel) when I got the news from another professor who I kept in contact with (Bueso). I immediately started to cry, with my boyfriend comforting me, as it was right then that I realized what a brilliant man I had the pleasure of knowing. I did not know him personally, but he went to great lengths to speak to me about certain movies, the industry and how a girl who can’t afford a fancy name on her resume could break into such a competitive business. I still remember the first day of class and he shows us a movie montage where I was also so moved (I always loved film, but he made me realize just how much). I exclaimed “Oh my God, Now Voyager!” during the montage and he chuckled, surprised, I guess, that I got so excited about a Bette Davis film while my classmates had no clue.

    I am eternally grateful that I stayed for that extra semester and met him. What an inspiring human being- so generous with his knowledge. I miss him.

  2. Great post! Whether in this life or the next, it is always good when someone remembers and speak of you fondly.

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