Thursday, October 21, 2010

Through the Eyes of a Student

I have been taking some time to reflect lately. It has been a particularly rough three years--physically and emotionally. I needed to take some time to remember my roots, my passions. To remember my life. On Monday I received an email from a stranger, a woman who was doing a paper on leadership for her graduate program. She had seen a post on one of my online lectures that her father-in-law had been my mentor and wanted to ask if I would answer a few questions about his leadership abilities. As he died many years earlier, she felt whatever I had to say would be useful to her and would help his son as well.

I had a wonderful visit with my former mentor. The reflection time allowed me to revisit my own self, my dreams and accomplishments as well.

The majority of my relationship with Ben was as his student in my undergraduate program at Portland State University. Most of what I will tell you is anecdotal as, like most students, I was wrapped up in my own learning and progress.

The picture is following my graduation ceremony. I had wanted my parents and sons to meet Ben. How typical is this picture: student glowing with self-congratulation; mentor glowing with pride in his student.

Because of Ben’s personality, caring, and leadership, I came to share his passion for speaking. To this day I model my classes as he did, teach them in a very similar manner, and always hope to evoke the same joy of speaking publicly. I am a teacher because I love teaching. I am a good teacher because of Ben’s guidance. I am a passionate teacher because I had the role model of Ben Padrow.

This is what I wrote to his daughter-in-law.

Ben was always a hands-on instructor. He had so much knowledge and cared so much about public speaking and rhetoric that he imparted it with decision and passion. He assumed and expected his students would also gain this passion for rhetoric.

When he was working on something, he would present it to the class. I believe he did this for two reasons—preparation and as a model. Oh and the third reason: he loved to perform! His style of speaking, his delivery, his love of the history of this discipline always shined through as he spoke. He was truly a role model for his students.

As a graduate student, I did not take courses from Ben but we would sit and chat when we had time. At this particular moment, I was having a particularly rough term—love interest problems, children problems (I was a returning student with two small children) and the cherry on top was that I had just taken a tough exam in another course that I had decided I had failed. He allowed me to sit in his office and rant and rave at myself, how I was failing, how I didn’t have it in me.

After I started winding down with my ranting, he gave me sage advice. Never one to soft-soap his ideas, he said (and this is a direct quote remembered after 30 years), “After you have stopped flogging yourself, ask yourself what you have learned from this [experience].” Whoa. That stopped me in my tracks and allowed me to see that I can do anything by learning from my mistakes. It also taught me I could take a few moments and lick my wounds before I move forward. I have used this same advice for my sons as they grew up and for my students and colleagues.

On Ben’s nomination, I was selected as the graduate speaker for graduation for my undergraduate degrees (I graduated with two degrees and one minor—I was a returning woman student overachiever). It was an honor—that the college trusted me, but above all that Ben thought I was a worthy speaker. He also gave a speech that year at graduation.

Even though he had his own stuff to deal with, he promised to help me get comfortable using a microphone and talking to such a large crowd. What I liked about Ben was he rarely asked me to change what I wanted to say. He rarely said to do this or do that; he simply would ask me what I wanted to accomplish by what I was doing. As I practiced my speech using a mic in front of him, he asked me this question in a couple of places. It was afterward when I went home and looked at my speech that I could then see what he was asking. I tweaked my speech.

Ben gave me (and many other students—not a unique thing just to me) a card that said I was now a card-carrying member of the human race and worthy of all rights granted to me as such. It was a hokey little card, but it was handed to me with such care. It was something important to Ben and thus it became important to me. I carried this card with me until it began to tatter. I then removed it from my wallet and put it in my treasure box.

Ben believed in me, as he believed in many of his students. His desire for us to succeed was obvious. His desire for us to set forth something important for the future was obvious. In this, we all have come together.


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