Quinnipiac University College of Arts and Sciences

One Thursday Night

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2012 at 3:23 pm

by Sharlene Walbaum, professor of Psychology

What follows is a story about the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Service Award Dinner. In it, I tell what happened when Hans Bergmann, CAS Dean and Fearless Leader, and I met on stage at the end of the awards ceremony.

Prior to that point, the five other awardees were honored for their teaching and service. I am honored to be in the same cohort as Kim Hartmann, Kristen Richardson, Mohammad Elahee, Dottie Lauria, and Janice Wachtarz. These are remarkable people.
In order to understand my remarks, you need to know a few things. First, I didn’t actually say what I write here. It is what I would have said if I had five minutes. I had four. Second, I spent years working closely with Betsy Delaney, Psychology administrative assistant, and she hates being singled out. Finally, I don’t have a brother named Sheldon. But I do have an academic sibling who is also a very dear friend. Some have said–he has said–that he bears a resemblance to Sheldon of the series Big Bang Theory. That prompted me to watch a few episodes. I am not convinced. But, it is a funny idea.

When Hans joined me onstage, I immediately relaxed. A sense of calm replaced my (high) anxiety. That shift may explain what happened next.

Hans had prepared–as is his custom–a well-crafted and moving introduction. During his remarks, Hans would address me directly (eg., “Shar…”) as a prelude to saying something lovely (and undeserved). The first time he said “Shar,” I said “What?” in a normal voice. The next time, I said “What?” a bit louder. The third time that his “Shar” was followed by my “What?” everyone was laughing. I was doubled over. Hans maintained a straight face. Then, he turned to me and, in his best professorial manner, said, “You see…I am only saying ‘Shar’ rhetorically, so you don’t need to answer.”

We killed.

After that, I behaved myself. Hans proceeded to say very kind things and to say them beautifully.

Then came my remarks:

I’ve been in school for 53 years and I still get called on last.

“This is radical.” The first time I said that was at the Excellence dinner some years back. I came to honor Carrie Bulger, who is a brilliant teacher. Since I am not a formal or a fancy person, being at such an event made me nervous. So, I “self-medicated.” It worked. In the course of the evening, I found the courage to walk up to President Lahey and say, “This is radical.”

I believe I said it several times.

“This is radical.”

President Lahey was very kind and he waited patiently. Eventually, I explained: to offer the same respect to people whether they work in Facilities, in the Bursar’s office, or in the classroom, to honor them with the same pomp and circumstance, is radical. I was right. This is radical.

My first teacher was my mother, Wenona Ardis Soelberg. She was a bleached blonde diner waitress who loved country music. She got her first car when she was 43 – a cream colored Simca. (I decided it would be mine when I was old enough to drive). I remember riding with her to my grandmother’s one day in 1968. It was her birthday and I felt terrible because I didn’t have a gift. So, with all the earnestness a 14-year-old girl could muster–which is a lot–I said, “Mom, I will make you proud of me someday.”

Now, pay attention. What she did next shows you what kind of teacher she was.

She turned to me, took the cigarette out of her mouth, and, with the same seriousness, said, “You already have.”

Think of that exchange from a teaching standpoint:

she met me where I was;
she sent a message of unwavering support.
It was a valuable lesson.
I wish she were here tonight.

My first classroom was my family. There were six of us, all born between 1948 and 1958 in Portland, Oregon. (Poor Mom!) In that classroom, I learned three important lessons:

Everyone learns differently.
Listen and observe carefully.
We are always both teacher and student.
(That last one may have to do with being a middle kid.)

I am deeply grateful for these lessons and for these people. I miss them and love them.

I am also grateful for loved ones who are here tonight. I am lucky to have friends and family with the brains the size of planets and hearts that are even bigger. One of them has the initials Betsy Delaney. Also, one of my brothers is here: Hi, Sheldon! I am so glad you could come!

Three of my children are here tonight–Michael, Byron, and Nicole. I am so proud of you all and love you very much. Thank you for sharing this with me.

Jerry…Hi, Jerry!
Remember the first real conversation we had? No, not the time I flirted with you during Open House in 1994. We ran into each other in Buckman and Ali was running up and down the hall in her blue floppy hat. Remember what we talked about? It was teaching. We talked about the student in the back of the room and how important it is to connect with that that kid.

Now, how cool is this: we talk about teaching every day! You are the biggest influence on my teaching. You know how you always say that we are lucky to have each other? You are right, I agree. I am very lucky to have you.

Finally, there are some gifted teachers who I wish were here tonight. They were wonderful colleagues and I loved them. Many of you loved them, too. So, I want to say their names and, in that way, bring them into the room:

BARRY FRITZ
MARY SEGALL
ESTELLE FRIEDMAN
MARK JOHNSTON
LENNY KENT

Thank you.

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  1. I was there and was a tickled and moved by the re-visit of the event and the story as I was then. Thanks, Shar.

  2. You just got even more amazing, Shar.

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