It was the middle of my first semester of college, and I was scared. Scared that I was not making any real friends. Scared that journalism was not really for me. Scared at the realization of just how shallow my faith in Christ had become.
And in the middle of it all, I got this note from you:
you left too quickly … I wanted to personally praise you for contributing in class today. You have a sharp, keen mind Austin. You always bring me a great deal of joy seeing you in class. Well done today.
Oh and yes … it was a great class today!
I never responded to that email. Until now.
Dear Professor Simon,
You left too quickly.
I wish I had known, when I saw you through the window on your office door, hard at work, that it would be the last time I would ever see you on this earth. I was rushing to, or maybe from, a meeting and you looked even busier than I was.
If I poked my head in, I suspected it would once again result in a 20-minute conversation that would end in prayer and some beautiful words of encouragement that would no doubt brighten my day. But I thought it was a luxury neither of us could afford at the time.
How foolish I was.
If I knew back then that I would not get another chance to hear your voice and your laugh—to see you use your incredible wit—I would have tried (and probably failed) to tell you how beloved you were. Yes, beloved. I know of no other teacher at any level of education who constantly uses that word to describe their students.
You cared so much for each and every one of us, even when we were a bunch of freshmen that had no idea if we even wanted to commit to this type of major. Many of us became or stayed journalism or public relations majors in large part because of the kindness and generosity you showed us, the way you made us feel so valued and capable. You attracted us to these often-very-unattractive fields by just being yourself.
You gave us gifts, paid for out of your own pocket. You wrote us incredibly thoughtful emails like the one I included above. You would take time out of your class to encourage us individually. You gave us Bible verses to meditate on and wise words to ponder. You sang and told jokes. I have never met anyone with the combination of joy, humor and intelligence that you had, and I honestly doubt I ever will.
You treated all your classes—even the ones with 25 or 30 students—to coffee. I mean, who does that?
You changed my life, and the lives of so many people I care about.
When I was so unsure of myself that first semester, you encouraged me so deeply. Your encouragements were never cliches, like “you’re a good kid, hang in there,” but rather specific affirmations of who I am. Life-giving words like the one in your email above came second nature to you, especially in person.
You were the best of us because you always saw the best in us, and you went out of your way to show us what that looked like.
I remember going to your Foundations of Journalism and Public Relations class last fall to recruit writers for the Chimes. You were so warm and welcoming, which did not surprise me. What did surprise me is when I got to the part of my speech about how my work there had landed me an internship. Before I knew what was happening, you got the whole class to applaud for me.
I tear up every time I remember that. It was something so selfless, so honoring. I had not even seen you in months, and yet after I spoke, you made sure to spend part of your class break catching up with me, encouraging me, telling me how proud you are of me.
I know you would do the same for any of your students. And I can think of no nobler goal for any of us than to aspire to be the men and women of Christ you saw us as.
You always brought us so much joy, and now I can only smile at the joy you must be feeling at hearing the words “well done” from the one you love the most.
– Austin Green, Managing Editor