A longtime Saint Mary’s colleague and dear friend, Brother Camilo Chavez, called me a few months ago because two faculty member colleagues wanted to interview him about his 40 years of service at the college. Being ever humble, Brother Camilo was uncertain whether he had made a difference in his work with students.
Knowing full well that he has been a tremendous source of support to me and countless others, I posted a note on Facebook asking former students to share their thoughts about Camilo and his impact on them.
The response was both astounding and deeply touching: Students across five decades expressed appreciation for the transformative impact Brother’s teaching, advising and mentoring had on their lives. Camilo has long taught meditation and many thanked him for the peace his introduction to the practice continues to bring them.
Among the most precious gifts an educator receives are the occasional thank you cards, letters, emails, and now Facebook posts from students and alumni. My view is that for every message of appreciation received there are countless others that should be sent to former teachers, coaches, advisors, and others. “But they know how we feel,” you might say; however, the gift of gratitude is always welcome, for we can never say “thank you” too many times.
Three of my lifelong friends are retiring this year after extended careers as college teachers and administrators. Richard Enos and I met during the first or second grade at Sacred Heart School in Oakland, and we graduated together many years later from Saint Mary’s College High School in Berkeley. Professor Enos has had a distinguished career as a teacher, scholar, and leader in higher education, and he is retiring after 24 years at Texas Christian University.
In recent years more college faculty have delivered “Last Lectures,” wherein they reflect on their years as educators. Rich delivered his last lecture to a room full of current and former students, colleagues, family, and friends, and I watched it on YouTube. On the wall behind him, someone had posted a quote from the Roman statesman and orator Cicero: “He cultivated for others and not himself.”
The Lasallian mission of Christian Brothers like Camilo proclaims that students must be at the “center of the work” of educators. Professor Richard Enos clearly reflects those values in saying, “Number one, we must never give up on a student.”
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Mario Rivas and I met in the fifth grade and we both graduated from Saint Mary’s along with Rich. After having both been told we, “were not college material,” Dr. Rivas and I reconnected 25 years later — he an Associate Dean at San Francisco State and me a Dean at Saint Mary’s.
Since then, Mario and I collaborated on numerous publications, conference presentations, and campus consultations. I also watched the powerful impact he has when speaking to countless groups of young people — from eighth-graders at our old grammar school, to Gates Millennium Scholars, to his own classes. Dr. Rivas retired as a Psychology professor at Merritt College in May.
When asked what he is most grateful for from his many years as an educator, Mario replies, “Having had the opportunity to positively support the development of students, especially those who often don’t get the support they need and deserve.”
Mario’s words were echoed in those of Dr. Joe Conner, a long-ago USC classmate. Joe is retiring after 40 years as a biology professor and he shares, “I am grateful for having met and hopefully inspired young people to go beyond their self-imposed limitations and those others have placed on them to reach their highest potential.”
As an inner-city youth who went on to achieve a doctorate in Marine Biology and service to UNESCO, Joe took generations of young people like he once was to NASA, Cal Tech, and elsewhere to experience new worlds of science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine. Professor Conner is a role model to students who seeing him have likely said, “That can be me someday!”
I have long appreciated the story of a woman who stopped a soldier on Veteran’s Day to thank him for his service. Appreciative of her gratitude, the soldier then asked the woman what her job was. She replied that she was a teacher and he responded, “Then I also want to thank you for your service!”
This holiday season provides an excellent occasion to express gratitude to all those educators, including family members, who help make our dreams real.