January 9, 2013 by Elizabeth Miller
Remember the final battle of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when Harry is fighting He Who Shall Not Be Named (Fine, for Dumbledore’s sake, I’ll say it—Voldemort)? All the professors of Hogwarts have been battling the whole time, and they gather to stand around Harry. Sometimes I picture myself in that moment, except instead of a battle of good and evil, I’m in some sort of academic show-down. How or why I got there is beyond me. All I know is that I’m about to do battle based on the power of my education, and suddenly all of these professors are standing behind me.
While I doubt I will ever actually find myself in such a battle (perhaps that’s what a dissertation defense is like), there is something magically wonderful about knowing that I’ve got some pretty powerful professors who have prepared me for it and who, in my mind, would stand behind me.
Prof. Tierney, who taught me to simplify the story to understand the power dynamics at play, one of the greatest tools I’ve ever developed in understanding the world.
Prof. Vinson, who showed me how multiple narratives could fit together to make an infinitely longer and more interesting story. Jumping up onto a desk to convey a point is also one of the best lecture strategies I’ve ever been present for.
Prof. Kennedy, who gave me the credibility to say that my love of television did indeed make sense to some very smart people, although she did ruin CSI and Law & Order for me.
Prof. Currans, who rocked my world with so many epiphanies, mostly about all the things I wasn’t seeing or hearing. Looking for the silences now defines a lot of my sense of self and justice.
Prof. Gray, who once told me that my theory writing was dandy, which coming from her incredible intellect made me think maybe I really could understand that which is complicated (i.e. Judith Butler).
Prof. Fisher, who reminded me that what I love most are stories about people, places, identity, and change. Plus, he forgave me for only being a faux-Westerner.
Prof. Hanley, who laid out in one semester the sociological tools I needed to make sense of how I saw the world and how I wanted to change it, and once told us only one of the essay options would be on the exam but day-of let us choose between two.
Prof. Sohoni, who wove together sociology and story in a way that made my brain kick into gear and begin synthesizing all the things I had been struggling to piece together. The juice and donuts he brought on movie days were also pretty great.
Prof. Putzi, who defended my right and ability to learn by giving me every opportunity I asked for and every so often let one page of my thesis draft get through with no edits on it.
Prof. Quark, who exemplified the cool and crazy smart I wanted to be when I grew up and then helped me develop some of the skills to get there by challenging my brain every day.
Prof. Korwin, who let me write about Justin Bieber, reminding me that academics could really shape how you see (and by that I mean critically analyze) any part of the world.
Prof. Pieper, who I probably drove crazy with my incessant hand-raising but who I still email with stories of how something he taught me is informing my life, and he even writes back.
Prof. McGovern, who has yet to actually teach me in a classroom, still meets with me long after his Freshman Advisor role has expired, and from day one of college has reassured me that learning, the thing I love most, really is good for you.