Vol 10, Num 17 :: 2011.09.30 — 2011.10.13
It’s in my nature to be organized. In college, I was one who liked everything to be set up and ready to go when classes started. I would have all my textbooks purchased at least a few days before classes began, and I would have new spiral notebooks ready for each class so I could take good notes. I know, I am a complete nerd. So you can imagine that I wasn’t comfortable when my work-study assignment was not in place before classes began my first semester of my freshman year. I marched over to the business building, where I wanted to work. I assumed they would assign me to a position, but instead, they handed me a list of business professors who didn’t have an assistant, and told me to choose one.
I looked at the list, clueless. I was a freshman, so I didn’t know who any of them were! Gladly, my brother Ryan had just graduated a few months before, so he knew all the professors. I showed him the list and without hesitation he told me to work for Professor Coleman.
The next day, I went to Professor Coleman’s office and immediately grew nervous when I met him. He was the epitome of an intimidating and confident businessman with a deep, assertive voice. He wore a tailored black suit with a tie, and shiny black shoes. I quickly noticed that this was his daily attire, and his shoes clicked on the bare floors of the business building. You could always hear him coming because he walked assertively.
As nervous as I was, I told him that I would like to be his student assistant. He told me to sit down and then proceeded to interview me. He asked me to tell him, in 60 seconds, why he should hire me as his student assistant. If I wasn’t already intimidated, this sure did it. I stumbled, not expecting to have to go through a formal interview to grade papers and run errands. I said something about how I am organized, punctual, hard-working, and my brother is Ryan. As soon as I mentioned my brother, Professor Coleman looked up and said, “You’re hired.”
So that is how I got the job as his student assistant, and it lasted all four years of my college education. I worked in his office everyday for a few hours at a time. As I got to know Professor Coleman, I was one of the few who figured out that he was a kind, thoughtful person underneath his intimidating exterior. He made it mandatory for me to attend and help him with all Toastmasters meetings, because he was the advisor of the club. Toastmasters, if you don’t know, is a leadership and public-speaking club. It scared me to death, but I quickly came to realize that it would be the best club I could ever get involved with. You learn how to speak in front of people without saying “um,” prepare a formal speech, give impromptu speeches, conduct a meeting using Robert’s Rules of Order and critique others. While all this sounds scary, the atmosphere was encouraging and we laughed a lot. If we messed up, it didn’t matter. Professor Coleman loved to point out our mistakes, but it was always done in a positive manner.
I only had one class with Professor Coleman, my senior capstone course. In class, he expected nothing less than our full effort. He expected everyone to speak up at some point during each class, with an opinion or answer. He kept you on your toes at all times. The same can be said outside of class. When talking with students one-on-one, he had a way of subtly boosting their confidence so they could take on a certain challenge. We all trusted his advice because not only was he a former Marine and a very successful businessman who was constantly traveling to attend board meetings in other states, but he was a man of faith and led a life that reflected good morals and true character.
For all his classes (except the one I was in), I would create his grade books, grade tests, record grades and organize his office. He would tease me when his office was in disarray, saying it was my fault. But he hoarded things, and never threw our papers away. He also loved taking pictures at Toastmasters meetings or student gatherings at his house, and hanging up those pictures in his office. I tried to get rid of his boxes of papers, but he wanted to keep them, saying that one day some of his students will be famous, and he can pull out papers they wrote in his class. He held such pride in each student, believing in all the achievements we could reach. Many days I would sit in his office as he would be teaching a class across the hall. He would come out of the classroom often, to get his glasses or pick up a book and go back into class. As he entered the class again he would always ask this question to the whole class in his booming voice: “Are you having fun yet?” It made me smile every time, because I knew he was having fun. He loved to teach us inside or outside the classroom and push us to be the best we could be.
He pushed me to be the best I could be. Without his urging, I never would have joined Toastmasters and become the President the second semester of my freshman year. I never would have felt confidence when speaking in front of groups. I never would have learned skills of communication that have helped me in everything I do. Most of all, I never would have gotten to know a truly great man who was professional, courteous, encouraging and not afraid to challenge me. Sadly, he passed away two years after I graduated, and there are so many moments that I wish I could e-mail him or go visit him to gather wisdom and advice. He left an indelible mark on my life, as I know he did on many others’ lives as well.