As I watched the graduates at Webster University’s 99th commencement ceremonies yesterday, I realized that this month marks the 35th anniversary of my own undergraduate completion.
I remember crying my way through that Saturday at my undergrad school in Bolivar. The best four years of my life (so far) had been spent there, resulting in some deep and profound friendships, some beginnings of self-understanding and certainly self-awareness, and a broadening of my world view (although not my religious views at the time).
And then I realized that this Commencement Day also coincided with something all over the Internet this week, Teacher Appreciation Week.
When I finished my doctorate, I was certain to contact a few people who had made a massive mark on my life:
- Dr. Verna Brummett, now retired from teaching, but the first music teacher I remember, and one who led me through several years of elementary and middle school music. Her joy in teaching was infectious. The recording of our 8th-grade honor choir is one of my treasures.
- Vance Riffie, now many years later gone to glory, who taught me how to read music in children’s choir at First Baptist Church, Lee’s Summit, and led me in my first public choral solo in 10th grade boy’s glee club at Lee’s Summit High School. His smile and way of motivating students continues to be in my heart.
- Russ Berlin, still at it in Lee’s Summit, who started me on cornet and then moved me to French horn in 5th grade, and who was my band teacher for six of my eight years of public school horn playing and marching band and (in high school) orchestra.
These folks were titans in my life.
Simon Carrington knew I had completed the doctorate, since he was on the doctoral committee, but I cannot possibly list the massive-mark teachers without acknowledging his role in shaping my hands and my ears and my musical tastes.
Rita Resch, now retired from the University of Central Missouri, finally taught me how to sing and teach singing.
And at the time of my doctorate, there were two people I could not thank in person, because they too were gone on to glory even then:
- Gladys Alkire, the down-to-earth piano teacher in whose home nearly every young musician in Lee’s Summit was formed and taught, and who was my own piano teacher for six years. I owe my ease with music theory to her tutelage and inclusion of scales, cadences, arpeggios, and harmonic analysis in every lesson.
- Sandy Simpkins, the outlier on this list since she my English teacher during three important semesters of high school. She taught me to write. To express myself clearly. To use punctuation in appropriate ways. And I understand now that she taught me how to teach, because I see so much of her in my own teaching, even now more than 20 years after her death and nearly 40 years after my own high school graduation.
This list of teachers is necessarily incomplete, because I have had so many meaningful and important models and influences and guides. They include
- “Dr. Dan” Cochran at Southwest Baptist, who opened up to me the world of philosophy and ideas
- Jerry Voss in high school, whose senior-year course in comparative biographical study left a mark on my world view
- Richard Miller in high school, my band and orchestra director for two years
- Ed Quistorff at Central Missouri. He taught me basics of vocal pedagogy and anatomy, and his lessons pervade every lesson I teach.
- Paul Laird at KU, who chaired my doctoral committee and whose lively writing style I still cherish and evoke
- Gary Galeotti at SBU, whose definition of providence is still part of my daily vocabulary
- Fr. Chip Gilman, who inculcated in me an Episcopalian discipline of prayer and praise
- Lee Snook and Ted Harris and Cheryl Helmer, my collegiate voice teachers
- Mike Lancaster at Central Missouri, who shaped my undisciplined conductor hands into something that others seem to like to follow
- Frank Fenley at Central Missouri, who modeled collegiate faculty mores and ethics, and who believed in me early on
- Charlie Schwartz and Peter McAllister and Meryl Mantione at Ball State, who taught the good and not-so-good of university administration
- Ed Matuszak, the only athletic coach who allowed me to be my awkward, inathletic self, and who made me part of his basketball program (and I got an athletic letter my senior year!)
- Miss Mann, my fifth-grade teacher; and Mr. Herb Patrick, my sixth-grade math teacher who allowed me to be smart; and Mrs. Nelson, my sixth-grade social studies teacher. At this far-away remove, I just remember their classes as being exciting and engaging, but the specifics are now gone.
I stand on the shoulders of giants. They would probably say they are ordinary people doing the ordinary things they knew how to do, and that they were doing their job. I would say the same thing now myself.
But I am who am in my profession in large part because of these giants on whose shoulders I stand.