Here’s to you, Dr. Gwin.

by Sue

I cried for you for the first time yesterday after recalling everything you had said to and done for me since the day I first met you. I cried for you for the first time yesterday and not on the day I found out the news because I was still in a state of shock, not fully grasping that you would no longer be here with me. What’s a girl to do without her mentor? The person who encouraged me to follow my dreams and love my interests, unabashedly? It’s been years since we had a real meaningful conversation, something that lasted longer than a few comments exchanged on Facebook, but in my heart and in my mind, those long talks we had about life will always remain with me. You will always remain with me.

I was sixteen when we first met, even though I had heard about you from my friends and fellow schoolmates — your lack of leniency when it came to grading, the difficulty of your classes, the dullness of the material. I sat in the front row of your classroom like the nerdy Asian girl I was back then, expecting not to enjoy my first day, and watched you stroll in wearing your usual uniform of a white short-sleeve button up shirt, suspenders, khakis (short or long, dependent upon weather), socks with sandals and your signature Santa Claus beard. But when you spoke, you commanded attention – a true storyteller. The passion you held for history reignited my interest for ancient civilizations, and I knew, after a month into sitting in your class, I would no longer declare as a pre-med major but a history major.

My dual credit program required all students to ask a professor to be their mentor, to guide them through their senior year of high school/sophomore year of college, and I knew I had to ask you. I was nervous, Sally Hawkins dance type of nervous, but ten times worse. Relief when you agreed would be an understatement, and I honestly could not imagine a better person to have discussions about ionic columns or medieval armor over coffee and French fries (fries were more for me, to be honest). When I got into a bit of trouble with one of the administrators for a seemingly small incident (which felt incredibly huge at the time), you were there to walk me through it and explain, in the nicest way possible, that I was being punished severely for petty bullshit. You didn’t treat me like a sixteen/seventeen year old. You treated me like a person, and I thank you for that.

I thank you also for having a sense of humor and doing something that everyone said you simply do not do. It was toward the end of my senior year and I was suffering from senioritis something fierce, and instead of focusing on my studies, I spent more time playing Soul Calibre II than anyone in their right mind would ever do. I’d always enjoyed your exams because they were never multiple choice, and I could simply just show you in so many words that I had paid attention to you – that I really loved your class. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the most attentive in the last few weeks, and it showed during the final exam when we were asked to identify “Cervantes.” Cervantes who? Certainly not the military leader and certainly not the author of one of the greatest works of all time, so I put down what I did know: “He is a character in Soul Calibre II.” When we received our grades for the end of the term and I had found out that I made an A in your class, I simply had to find out how I did on my final, and during one of our many talks in your office, I brought up my little gaff. And you just smiled and removed the stack of exams from your filing cabinet and showed it to me. You’d given me half credit for my Cervantes answer and said, “I believe it to be true because you would never lie to me. Although it wasn’t the answer I was looking for, it is still a correct answer all the same.”

And in a way, you weren’t what I was looking for. I didn’t take your class hoping that I would change the course of my academic career. I needed a history credit, and I wanted a challenge. But enrolling in your class and asking you to be my mentor were the most correct decisions I have ever made.

May you rest in peace, Dr. Gwin.