Saturday, May 29, 2010

Guru Shiksha

When Cathleen set out for college four years ago, she planned to major in Psychology and Interior Design - her two loves. She was particularly interested in Criminal Psychology and we used to joke about how she might team up with Martha Stewart and redecorate the prison system.

But things turned out a little differently.

She got to Boston College where, being a Catholic university, one of the core requirements is Theology. She took her first course and was instantly hooked. It was like a whole new world opened for her and we watched in amazement and admiration as she discovered her calling.

She was always a good student, but this awakening was different than anything we had observed in her before. A little hesitantly at first, then with growing assurance and confidence, she navigated an entirely new discipline: Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, the Old Testament . . . and we continued to watch and marvel at the birth of a scholar, a person who loves a particular subject for its own sake.

The faculty in the Theology department at Boston College were all enormously important and supportive in this journey, - and she studied under some of the best-known theologians in the country: Pheme Perkins, Jeff Geoghegan, Pat Kilcoyne, Yonder Gillihan - but perhaps none so much as David Vanderhooft, whom she is looking up at (such a perfect visual metaphor!) in the photo above.

I still remember the day I met him, when she was taking her first course in his Hebrew class. Having heard about him from her frequent and distressed phone calls ("Mom, it's so hard! I'll never pass. I can't understand anything! And whenever I go to talk to him, he just forces me to figure it out myself.") I expected a stern, somewhat tyrannical figure and I was not disappointed. Although he smiled occasionally, he was tough and no-nonsense and quite unsympathetic about Cathleen's difficulties in his course.

So I was surprised to hear that she had signed up for a second semester with him. And a 3rd. And a fourth. Particularly because she didn't make her usual A's in his class. As hard as she worked, she consistently got no higher than a B+ and exhortations to work harder, study more, pay better attention.

But his methods worked. What a teacher. She mastered Hebrew and went on to earn A's in other courses with him, A's that meant more to her than almost any others because she knew how strict a grader he was.

It was in his avatar as a mentor, however, where I really found myself lost in admiration. Seeing him guide Cathleen at every stage of her career at BC made me realize how important mentoring is and what a vital difference it can make in a young person's life. How do we know what we don't know? We all need people who are further along in the game, who let us in on the trade secrets, shepherd us in the right direction, steer us away from what will waste our time or take us down the wrong road and constantly remind us to focus on the end goals we have set for ourselves.

David did that for Cathleen and look where she has arrived! A Fulbright scholar with a full scholarship to Yale Divinity School.

I'm not bragging. Just a proud and grateful Mom saying thank you to David Vanderhooft.

1 comment:

Entropy said...

On Education

When infant Reason first exerts her sway,
And new-formed thoughts their earliest charms display;

Then let the growing race employ your care
Then guard their opening minds from Folly’s snare;
Correct the rising passions of their youth,
Teach them each serious, each important truth;

Plant heavenly virtue in the tender breast,
Destroy each vice that might its growth molest;
Point out betimes the course they should pursue;
Then with redoubled pleasure shall you view

Their reason strengthen as their years increase,
Their virtue ripen and their follies cease;
Like corn sown early in the fertile soil,
The richest harvest shall repay your toil.

By Elizabeth Bentley