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.