Dear Professor Mendelson,
I remember our first class together.
Actually, I remember all of our classes: Eastern Philosophy, Hellenistic Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy, Modern Philosophy, The Fundamentals of Logic, Friendship, Love and the Other, as well as a bizarre independent study on existentialism and literature, in which we explored the work of Simone De Beauvoir, wondering aloud, together, why she never received the attention we thought she deserved.
I remember how much you embraced the outsiders.
I remember so many of your lessons and insights. In a way, they're even more clear today, almost twenty years later. It's not just how you taught us to discover the nuances of Augustine or Aquinas, with your acerbic wit and sharp humor, but also how you helped us to discover our own voices, helping us to develop the confidence and courage that we would need.
I remember two stories that I'd like to share:
The first was an outburst of excitement. You once shredded a hefty paperback with your bare hands, heaving it across the room and into the garbage, as you disagreed with what the author had to say. I don't remember who the author was, or what the disagreement was about, but I can see that moment, clear as day. In that act, we saw your passion. It wasn't the act of defiance that endeared us, it was the inspiration that you offered for us to think on our own. You had found a different way and you inspired us to find our own way too.
Second, I remember sitting in a brightly lit downstairs room, as you nervously prepped us that we would have some unexpected visitors that day, and we should be on our best behavior. If memory serves me right, it was Professor Weiss, Professor Bearn, and Professor Dillion, and they were there to evaluate you, to see if you'd be as good an Associate Professor as you were an Assistant Professor. As they sat along the back wall with their notepads and pens, making observations and jotting down notes, I remember, in that moment, how I felt you were not just here to teach college students. You were here to teach us all.
What I remember most is how you helped us to find our own voices. How you taught us how to redirect our restlessness. How you inspired us to muster our own confidence. How you implored us to be unafraid of where things might lead. I will always remember how you helped us find our own way, always with an opening to the outside, to the new, to the unknown, to the misunderstood and the mysterious. Just because there wasn't a precedent, didn't mean we couldn't make it a precedent.
You gave us that courage.
The courage to ask our own questions, and discover our own modes of expression.
On behalf of the misfits and the outsiders, from those of us who wanted to embrace the world but just didn't know how...