Raise your hand if you feel like you thank your teachers enough. Yeah, I didn’t think so.
But rest assured, you are in the majority. For better or for worse, taking things for granted is intrinsic to human nature. If we were always cognizant of how lucky we were, we’d never have the pleasure of enjoying our gifts in the moment. But perhaps, with the end of the academic year in sight, this may be the best time to reflect upon the people that have been most special to us, most formative, most impactful.
I will gladly volunteer to go first as I have had an inspirational teacher on my mind lately: my musical theater history professor, Brian Valencia.
Brian’s recent dismissal from the Theater Arts department caused quite a stir among his students, who launched into a desperate attempt to help him get his contract renewed by writing letters to the Dean and Provost.
So this seemed the perfect opportunity to throw in my two cents about why Brian is a professor worth saving.
While Brian is known around the theater department for his contagious joyful spirit, impeccable fashion and Shakespearean-breadth vocabulary, only those who have had a class with him have truly witnessed the magic of his teaching.
Brian’s passion for what he teaches is almost palpable. He paints the stories of the past with such vivid colors you can almost feel the upholstered seats of the theater beneath you, smell the hairspray permeating from backstage and feel your heart beating with the anticipation of a rising curtain.
Brian profoundly values everyone’s voice. So much so he starts class with “two minutes of music to move us,” an exercise in which a different student brings in a favorite song every class and we listen to it and analyze it. This exercise is yet another testament to Brian’s deft teaching ability. He is able to make a lesson out of any piece of art.
In something as laser-focused as a musical theater conservatory, Brian broadens our scope of what theater is, has been and can be. As he takes us through the decades of theater we start to understand that our contributions to this field can be boundless. Rules are waiting for us to break them. Irving Berlin changed the rules, George and Ira Gershwin changed the rules, Stephan Sondheim changed the rules, so why can’t we? Brian teaches us that being in the world of theater means we can be limitless. And it is our responsibility to be.
And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Brian never lets a single student feel left behind. He always goes out of his way to ensure every student understands, participates and becomes as enwrapped in the discussion as those shamelessly sitting at the front of the class attempting to devise answers to every question and keeping their hands raised until all the blood drains (i.e. me).
He values and cares for every student – and if you don’t believe me, just take a look at his office door, decoratively and vibrantly clad in our projects and assignments, no matter how poorly executed or artistically rendered they may be. He sees everyone as nothing less than a wellspring of potential. And the bravery that it takes to reach out to each student and unlock his or her imagination is the most admirable quality a teacher can possess – it is what elevates Brian from a teacher to a role model.
So on behalf of me and all the students who think it but don’t say it, thank you to Brian and every teacher like him. You make us better students, artists and people.
An important aspect of college is putting yourself out there and not leaving with anything unsaid, so do just that and do it now. Jump off the diving board, take that cosmetology class that always piqued your interest, take an excursion through the school and thank all the professors that have made strong impressions on you. Look out the window on that trip home this summer fulfilled and with absolutely no regrets.
Dana Munro is a sophomore majoring in musical theater. Glass Half Full runs every Tuesday.