Monday, May 5, 2008

Retirement 1.0

When you've been in school as long as I have (24 years, not counting preschool or kindergarten), you're a career student. When a career student finishes his studies, he doesn't just graduate--he retires. I've officially finished my first career (as of last week), and I'm moving on to a second (I hope this one will pay a little better).

Retirement tends to make one think as much of the past as the future. It has been a long road. I've had a good career. Two dozen years full of tests, papers, grades, memories, friends, sleepless nights, early classes and late classes, projects, speeches, countless hours in libraries, fun times, hard times, sacrificing what could have been fun times, and lots of lousy food. The thing I've been thinking about the most lately, though, are my teachers and professors. I've had a lot of them. I've had more than my share of terrible teachers (one told me I would never be successful; one told me I would quit on my wife and children because I left his choir to start college early; others just had no clue how to teach or what they were talking about, or spent entire semesters trying to convince us they were smart/right). I've had a lot of teachers who were OK. But, I've also had a few teachers who were truly outstanding--teachers who actually taught me and had an impact on who I am. And here, at my retirement party, I would like to make a toast to the Socrateses in my life.

Mrs. Rosella Maw - Kindergarten, Plain City Elementary
Mrs. Maw was a model teacher: she loved kids and she loved teaching. She wasn't there because it was a job; she was there to teach. I'm sure that the foundation she built for me has impacted my life more than I even comprehend, but of all the lessons she taught us, the one I remember the most clearly 26 years later is about honesty. When she caught me stealing extra cookies during snack time (a whole backpack full, incidentally), she took me aside during recess, sat with me on the front steps of Plain City Elementary School, and told me that she was disappointed in me, she would have given me more had I asked, and that she expected better of me in the future. I think of that moment every time I think it might be beneficial to be dishonest. Thank you Mrs. Maw.

Mr. James - Human Biology, 10th grade, Weber High School
Mr. James knew human biology, and he made it feel important while simultaneously pounding it into our heads. It was a tough class, but we had fun. Simply put, I remember more from Mr. James' human biology class in 1994 than I do from classes I had last semester. He made me want to be a doctor (until I realized I would be bored being a doctor), and I can still hear his voice and see his lit-up face every time I bump my zygomatic arch or scratch my mastoid process.

Dr. James Dolph - two American History courses, Weber State University
Dr. Dolph graduated from the School of Hard Knocks, and he reminded us every day that the greatness of America lies both in the dream and in the sacrifice. He challenged us to dream and to make the sacrifices, just as our great American heroes had. He made us stand to reenact the battles of Lexington and Concord. He made us stand to honor Rosa Parks, George Washington and Ladybird Johnson. And each day, after he made his "courtesy entrance" into the classroom to arrange his rostrum and books, he would leave momentarily, only to return with an order to "all arise." Then, with the bang of his gavel, we sat and began to learn. Real in "Dead Poet's Society" and "Freedom Writers." Thank you Dr. Dolph - quirkiness and all.

Bro. Jerome Perkins - two religion courses, Brigham Young University
Brother Perkins is brilliant, but he didn't want you to know it. He didn't care if you thought he was cool or smart or funny. His entire focus was to teach about Christ, and his classes were always deeply spiritual experiences. I craved his class because I knew I would have a spiritual experience the next time we met. Even after I took all the classes he taught I kept returning to his lectures, sitting in the back, watching a master teacher. He taught by example (I still think about having a family like his), and he possessed perhaps the most crucial and elusive of all attributes of a good teacher: humility.

Montserrat Gorina-Ysern - International Law, American University
Montserrat was much more than an incredible teacher--she was a friend (hence the first-name basis). I remember sitting in her first lecture over four years ago, on a frigid night in Washington D.C., when she excitedly introduced herself and told us she couldn't wait to work with us on our term papers, to read and learn from our papers, and to become our friend and colleague. I vividly recall thinking, "Yea right. You're just trying to make us like you." I readily admit to completely misjudging Montserrat (my excuse: hundreds of other teachers had driven me toward skepticism). Montserrat couldn't wait to start each class so she could teach us all the new and exciting concepts on that evening's agenda. She actively helped every one of us to think deeply and write persuasively about our chosen topic, and single-handedly saw to it that many of us had our pieces published in scholarly journals. She got us involved. She hosted luncheons in her home to introduce us to professionals who could help us to launch our careers. When I was writing my Master's thesis and my assigned adviser was too busy flying around the world to promote his candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize, she took me under her wing and worked tirelessly with me to create a thesis of which I could be proud (despite not receiving any recognition or pay for doing so). I would regularly receive feedback and marked-up drafts from her at 1:00, 2:00 in the morning. Even though she was extremely busy teaching, writing books (she wrote the definitive work on international law of the sea), and representing indigent clients and foreign countries, she would stay up to help me revise my 100-plus-page thesis. I could go on forever about Montserrat. Suffice it to say, she is still a dear friend (to the whole family), a wonderful mentor, and a model for the kind of attorney I hope to be. In a city filled with ideologues who will step on anybody to save the world (read: to promote themselves), Montserrat works relentlessly, indefatigably, and all-too-often thanklessly to lift others and help individuals. I was lucky enough to be one such individual, and I and my family are forever in her debt. Though she never seeks honor or praise, she deserves it. Montserrat is the consummate teacher. Montserrat, thank you so much.

Prof. Donald Langevoort - Corporations & Securities Regulation, Georgetown Law
Prof. Langevoort literally wrote the book on Securities Regulation. He's a genius. Lucky for me, he also really likes teaching and is really good at it. Believe it or not, he made studying the law of securities regulation entertaining and interesting. Though I've always been a good student who did all his work, I've never been a student who went beyond the requirements to seek out additional work. Until Prof. Langevoort. He made me want to know more, and I found myself thinking about the law of securities as I fell asleep, when I woke up, when I showered, and whenever I had nothing else to think about. I sought out more law review articles and books and cases to help me understand. I know this isn't making me look any less nerdy, but the point is that Prof. Langevoort made me want to learn. And for that, he makes the list.

Now what? I start career 2.0 (at the law firm) in September. Until then I have two goals: 1) pass the Bar, and 2) bag some peaks (not necessarily in that order).


Emily McAllister said...

Congratulations on your retirement/graduation. I enjoyed reading about your teachers, amazing how people can make such a difference in our lives. We are excited for you in this new transition in your life.

ted stewart said...

Congratulations! You did it. What an achievement. I am very proud of you. I liked your blog. I wish you well on passing the bar exam. It looks as if you are with a very well known firm. Tell your wife hi! Your son looks like he is full of energy. My son (Spencer) will be 18 years old in Oct. He is your cousin that you haven't met. He is trying out for the national soccer team this summer. If your in the Reno area give me a call. You have a place to stay if your in the area.775-815-2186. Again, congrats on your doctorate.

Katie said...

really - it is such an incredible feat and an exciting time. ALL DONE! Can you believe it? I liked reading about the good teachers. (and the bad ones...Mr. Wood?) You have worked so hard Jer and you just made it happen despite all the obstacles and hard stuff. It's so great. May you sue the pants off bad guys until the end of your days.