Eternal gratitude for mentors

Sometimes “thank you” just isn’t enough,and seems to marginalize things.

As we weave our way through life, we encounter countless friends, acquaintances and family members who leave marks on us in varying degrees.

            But then there are those who leave the big marks.

The ones who shape our thoughts and life goals and who make us feel like we owe them a debt than can never be repaid.

            Beyond my parents, two of those people, for me, are former professors at Castleton State College (long before we became university).

And as I think right now, on April 13, 2017, about the impact they have had on my life, my thoughts are bittersweet.

            You see one of my mentors, former communication professor Terry Dalton, died this winter after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

            The disease took this energetic, intelligent man with an insatiable passion for journalism and reduced him to someone who could no longer read.

But before he faded, he got to see me follow in his footsteps teaching journalism at Castleton, and we got to share a stage in Denver, Colorado leading a panel on the BP Gulf oil spill.

            In 2013 I dedicated my book to him and got to see him return to Castleton and soak in a standing ovation when I introduced him.

            The other mentor, Robert Gershon, shares a similar passion for storytelling, but his mode of story dissemination is a lens, not a pen. And while he impacted my life as a professor through his video knowledge and a long leash allowing us space to create, his greatest impact one me came years later.

            In my effort to follow in Dalton’s footsteps, in 2001 I wanted to begin taking graduate courses, despite a life that included a baby, a 3-year-old and a full-time newspaper editing job.

To do so, I needed recommendations and reached out to Gershon seeking one.

            Not only did he grant that request, he said he had a need for an adjunct professor to teach a news media ethics class and asked if I’d want to try it while I pursued my degree.

            That offer led to my second career as a Castleton professor. I loved the classroom and the students, and knew after that one class my decision to pursue teaching was the right one.

            For the past 12 years, I have worked a few offices away from Gershon.

I try to emulate his enthusiasm and I love his wit. I’ve copied his open-door policy, and helping nature that students love and need.

He’s a communication department encyclopedia, probably because he’s been here 40 years and actually helped create the department when it broke away from the English department.

            I am daily in awe of his intellect, and feel really pretty dumb in his presence. He can talk on any level about virtually any topic – yet despite his brilliance, he’s a common guy who loves to chat about family and loves to laugh.

            It’s bittersweet talking about Gershon these days too, because in May, he’s retiring and no longer will I be getting that cheery “hi Dave” as he cruises past my office on the way to his, using that trademark short-legged long stride.

            I think Dalton knew what he meant in my life, with the book dedication and my career path – and because I told him.

            I’m not sure I’ve ever really told Gershon, though, or expressed my gratitude.

I owe him for my teaching career and for all he has taught me about not only the profession, but about life, and about treating people properly and about working hard.

And while I’m happy for him to pursue retirement with his grandkids and tackling video projects with former students, I will miss him.

The communication department will be a little hollow with his departure.

Sometimes “Thank you,” just isn’t enough, but thank you Bob.

Thanks for everything.       

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