"Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place."
-- Unknown

Monday, January 5, 2009

The loss of a mentor

How do you begin to pay tribute to someone who helped you through some of your most trying and defining years?

That is that task I face today, just hours after learning that my beloved college advisor and mentor, Chris Warden, has passed away.

Known by many as “Prof”, Warden was an easy ear, an insightful tip, a constructive critique and an amazing teacher. He made himself available for students 100 percent of the time (he gave out his cell number, just incase you needed something and he wasn’t in his office.) He taught his classes with odd bits of humor and the wisdom of years in the field of journalism. And most importantly, he believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

During my junior year of school, I found myself missing classes, falling behind and struggling to stay motivated. I worked a lot and started using that as an excuse for not getting school work finished. Some people don’t know this, but I actually quit going to school for about three months, and family members were wondering if I was going to enroll the next semester. I was feeling burnt out. Trying to balance school with a full-time work schedule was harder than I thought it would be.

And on a deeper level, I was doubting the path I had chosen with my major. I began wondering if I was cut out for a job in Communication. Was I really a decent writer? I didn’t know anymore. I did know that I couldn’t face working at that terrible shop selling clothes for the rest of my life, so before the next semester, I went and sat down with Prof for a little heart to heart.

He had been my advisor for a few years at this point and I respected him beyond belief. I was terrified to go before him and talk to him about missing practically a whole semester of school. I was afraid of what he’d think of me — after all, two of the classes I missed were his. But the conversation he had with me that day helped me get my act together and my priorities in line. He said he respected the fact that I was working hard and trying to be financially independent, and that he knew how hard that was, especially with a full school load. But he assured me that it wasn’t too late. With a little hard work, I’d be able to finish up my classes and still graduate on time (which was a year late because of an earlier diversion into the nursing program for a year… but that’s a completely different, much longer story.) He said he knew I could do it, and that he would help in whatever way possible. He helped me make out my schedule of classes and he checked in with me constantly that semester, making sure I was keeping up with the work load. And I was. I knew I couldn’t let him down after he said he believed in me.

And that wasn’t the only time he was there to help boost my faith in myself.

During my last semester of classes, I had a quarter-life crisis at about 2 in the morning. I was digging through some documents, trying to put together a story that was due the next day, and I honestly felt like I couldn’t string two words together on paper. I’d been at it for hours. I’d type a line, read it and delete it. Nothing seemed to work. I e-mailed Prof, telling him I didn’t know how I’d ever get a job and that maybe this wasn’t really for me after all. It wasn’t so much a cry for help as a way to vent my frustration, so when my phone rang the next morning, I was a little surprised. Prof said to come by his office when I got out of class.

I thought, “Oh, no. He’s going to tell me to stop being such a cry baby and suck it up.” But he didn’t. Instead, he told me he went through the same thing. He told me about how he questioned himself, quit going to class for a while, then struggled to find a job after school. He told me that whatever I chose to do was up to me, but that he believed in me and thought I was an excellent writer. He encouraged me to stick with it and see where it could take me. It sounds cheesy, but he lifted my spirits and gave me the confidence to keep working at what I love.

And that’s just my story. Prof touched countless other’s lives in his time here. So many students are better for having known him.

He will be greatly missed and always fondly remembered.


Diane said...

I think your tribute was beautiful... and I'd bet he would, too. That he encouraged you and believed in you proves what an insightful, smart man he was. He was right to do it... and I know you won't let him down. He saw what we Bloggy people see, too... that you are immensely talented and a wonderful person... XO

Jen L. said...

Honey, I'm so sorry for your loss. I also lost a mentor and I can tell you this: He will always be with you. I guarantee that he will be that "little voice" in your head and that you will think of him with each triumph. Recall his words often and keep him alive in your heart. That is the best tribute you can offer.

Lacey said...

Wow, what a touching story! I'm sorry for your loss. I don't have any college teachers that stick out in my mind like that (most likely because all of my classes are online) but I can only imagine how hard it would be to lose someone so influential to your life. And he was right, you are a great writer. :-)

On a side note... seven books last month?! Are you freaking crazy?!?! Haha.

Ben said...

Thanks for your lovely tribute to a wonderful man. Chris was my editor at Investor's Business Daily years ago. And he was a good friend. He was nothing if not generous with his time and wisdom, as your story attests so well.

I posted a bit about Chris at my blog, Infinite Monkeys. Raise a glass in his honor.

Jessica said...

I'm so sorry for your loss hun! It's such a sad and seemingly unfair part of life. It sounds like he had such a profound impact on your life and gave you courage, wisdom, and confidence that you will take with you for the rest of your life. Not many people come into our lives that can do that to us and you're very lucky to have had that in yours. Try to focus on all of the positive memories you have of him!

Jenners said...

My condolences to you on your loss. That has got to be tough. You were lucky to find someone like that ... it is rare to find, I think. I'm glad that he was there for you when you needed him and he got you through some critical times. Your tribute to him is a lovely thing and I hope you can share it with his friends/family.

hebba said...

what a great tribute to a wonderful man. I can see how much he touched your life, and he will live on through you in the path he helped you to pursue.

Anonymous said...

Heather, I'm so sorry for your loss, too. What a wonderful man and teacher Prof was. His legacy will live on in his students like you, who have gone on to fulfill your dream of writing. You are so gifted, and I'm so thankful that he gave you that confidence to share your voice with the world.


J Cosmo Newbery said...

We all need people like that in our lives.

He can live on to some extent - "What would Chris have said?" is a benchmark that can travel with you.

Mel said...

Aw, Heather, I'm so sorry! We're all the richer for the faith he had in you.

Love to you, darlin'...

Heather said...

Thank you all so much for your kind comments. You are very right in saying that he was a wonderful man, generous with his time and wisdom.
Here's what the local paper had to say:
The article was actually written by one of my class mates, a fellow student of Prof.

Bethany@MyLifeinBlack&White said...

Thank you for this post, Heather. I love hearing other people's stories about the impact Mr. Warden made on their lives. Your co-workers are thankful you stuck with it. :-)

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute. Wish I could have known and thanked him for helping guide you through your time of self doubt. Thanks for giving us a glimse of him.


Andy said...

Hey I'm really sorry to hear about your loss, although you did an eloquent job with the written tribute.

Anonymous said...

Stan Evans, Fred Mann, Mal Kline, and a number of us in DC will be gathering in memory of Chris Warden at the Hawk & Dove (4th & Penn. S.E.) on Thursday, January 22, 2009, from 6 to 8 p.m. I hope you can make it, and please pass the word to anyone else you think might be interested.

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