Sunday, May 08, 2005

Congrats to the Class of 2005! (And Mom...)

Today was Angela’s first Mother’s Day. Miraculously, I did not need to be reminded that I had a new holiday to remember! Part of this is due, of course, to that fact that poor Angela must every year (unless I don’t get tenure) cede at least part of the holiday to American University because, as it turns out, commencement traditionally falls every year on Mother’s Day. Whose brilliant idea this was, I have no idea. (Good feminist that I am, I say: probably some man. Good husband that I am, I’ll add the words “single” and “bitter” to that.) Angela, trooper that she is, not only brought spent the day at AU, but also brought Xan which made most of my colleagues, graduates and graduates’ parents just ooh and aah. Both Angela and I realized that, if we’re lucky, we’ll be on the other side of this equation in 22 years with the little guy.

As it was, I could have been exempt this year from attending the ceremony since I am still on sabbatical. (I wonder if my sabbatical is officially over since it’s now just plain summer. Hm.) I decided to go in, however, because this happens to also have been my fourth year at AU – which means that the first classes of freshmen I taught in Fall 2001 graduated today. I got very sentimental the other evening and, late the other night, I sent an e-mail to sixteen of them who had all both taken a course with me during that fateful first year and then proceeded to take at least one additional course with me following that. Sappy and wistful as it is, the note follows and applies to far more than the 16 I sent it to.

Dad, Momma and Xan, Graduation 2005Posted by Hello

It’s coming up to commencement and I thought I’d take a moment to do what everyone else is doing at this point and look back. I’m writing to the sixteen of you (two of whom have already graduated and gone) because, for some odd reason, you took one of the six courses I taught four years ago: Critical Approach to the Cinema, Literary Imagination, The Film Musical or (in one of its last incarnations) Remarkable Literary Journeys. (None of you took the first version of Cinemas of Latin American Cinema that fall; that class had only nine students, all seniors, something that seems will never happen again. But I digress.) That was a tough year: dare I remind you that the events of September 11, 2001 occurred during one of those 8:30AM Critical Approach classes – and that for some, that was also the first class that met when we all tried to get back to “normal.” It was your first exposure to AU and you stuck with it for four more years.

It was also, as you may recall, my first year at AU. I also erroneously believed it would be my last: that year, I was a sabbatical replacement on a one-year hire, told from the beginning that I would not be rehired the next year. I took that to heart and nonetheless just did what I came to do, which was to teach. Perhaps like you, I didn’t know what to expect from this place. To be perfectly frank now, I’m not sure I expected much.

You all are part of an amazing group that definitely changed my mind. I know AU doesn’t have too much of a sense of rah-rah school spirit or anything, but I have really grown to love this place for all it is worth – and, believe it or not, it’s primarily because of students like you. You all proved your mettle early on. I tried to set the bar relatively high: all of you made it, most of you soaring over each time. I’ve learned a lot from you as students as much as I’ve been able to teach you.

I also haven’t forgotten all the signatures on the petition some of you signed in fall 2001, asking for me to be reconsidered for a job. A student spearheaded that campaign and I didn’t expect it to go anywhere. I’m still not sure how much influence that petition really had. But, in what I still consider a minor miracle in this world of academia, I was offered a tenure-track job here by the end of that year. And the following spring, the dean introduced me to another professor at a get-together as “the only professor I remember who students petitioned to hire.” Again: not sure how much it helped, but it surely didn’t hurt.

I’m writing to you all because, for some reason or another, you decided to take my courses again. And, in some cases, again and again and again. I know that for a couple of you, this was probably because you were cinema studies minors who just needed to get through it all. That doesn’t explain you, Mr. McKeveny, or you, Mr. Turner, who both win the award for taking a whopping five courses with me – though Colm perhaps edges out John in variety by having taken pretty much every course I’ve taught, literary and cinematic, except for two. (There is one exception to this list, who only took one of my courses – not a film one – and then was my GEFAP when I taught it a second time. Perhaps she was wise to avoid more of me, since I just noticed she managed to maintain a 4.0. Nice going, Shelby.)

This was not my first teaching job, but this is the first job where I am now getting the chance to see the freshmen that I started with, finish. All of us started together – and now, I?ll get the joy of watching you leave.

You’ve all changed considerably over the last few years. If nothing else (and leave it for the professor to point this out), you’ve all become much more mature thinkers and writers. Go back and look at those first papers you wrote for me, if you think I’m kidding. I’ve changed too, of course. Most of you know that I’m not on campus this semester because I’m currently on sabbatical, which was meant for writing and research. On March 20th, all that changed when my little baby boy Alexander was born and suddenly, I became Dad. As I type this, Xan’s lying asleep in my lap while I’m on the “night shift,” waiting for him to tell me he’s hungry. As I’ve said to several people: all the students who have been holding your breath, waiting for me to utter the phrase, “I’m totally in love with this guy,” can finally exhale, heh heh.

Yes, I’m being wistful (and rather long-winded and tangential, I now see – a hallmark, perhaps of a Middents class discussion? yes, I do read my evals...), but I consider it a privilege and honor to have taught you over the last four years. With a little luck (and a lot more writing to finally get my book on Peruvian cinema finished and published), I’ll be here for many more years to come as well. And although my sabbatical means that I don’t have to show up, I would be remiss if I didn’t actually come to your graduation, even if the only one I’m allowed to attend is for CAS. (Sorry, all you Vis Med folks.) Despite the fact that my wife and I finally have a real reason to celebrate Mother’s Day, we’ll all be on campus on Sunday for the grand event. And if you’re there (I know some of you just can’t wait to get the hell out of Dodge, and could care less about the pomp and circumstance), I’ll be the guy in the maize-n-blue robes cheering for your accomplishments as you cross the stage. And feel free to say hi one more time at the TDR reception afterwards before you head off into the “real world.” (And if, heaven forbid, you actually want to keep track of what’s happening in my life? well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I, too, now have a blog, at Now that you’re no longer my students, you can perhaps see what I’m really like, haha.)

Congratulations. It has been a real privilege to join you on this trip. I sincerely wish you the best as you continue your trajectories from here. (And if any of you happen to win an Oscar someday and don’t thank me, well, I may just have to go and retroactively change some grades. I'm just saying.)

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