John Zubizarreta - Acceptance Speech

2010 Outstanding Baccalaureate Colleges Professor of the Year
Professor of English and Director of Honors and Faculty Development
Columbia College
Columbia, S.C.

I'm told that I have 3-4 minutes for my remarks, a daunting request to make of an academic, an English teacher, no less, whose disciplinary proclivities and personal style are such that. . . . Oops! Sorry. There I go wandering already. I will try to hurry and stay in line, a difficult charge for me and my distinguished colleagues because I'm willing to bet that one of the qualities of our teaching and even our scholarly pursuits is the love of wandering, of adventuring, of taking risks, of going out of bounds, of simply having fun as we do the work of our profession. Robert Frost probably captured best what I'm sure all of us here would agree undergirds and reifies the power and value of our mission as teacher scholars, as U.S. Professors of the Year:

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

So with no more wandering (not for Heaven or the future's sakes but for the sake of time!), let me begin ending by adding that my wanderings as a teacher have never been lone ventures. One of the remarkable truths of any achievements any of us have ever made in our careers and personal lives is that we have never reached those destinations without the inspiration, support, rewards, and care received from others. For example, in my own case, from the two-year college teacher who let me teach some her classes after I graduated to fuel my passion for teaching English and who used insurance settlement money after her beloved oldest son was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident to help send me to graduate school. From my deep and long affiliation with the National Collegiate Honors Council, including serving as President of this premier professional honors organization in higher education, an affiliation that definitely has made me a better teacher of all students. (I'm proud that NCHC's Executive Director, Cynthia Hill, is in our audience today.) From my long involvement in professional faculty development circles which has honed my own skills but more importantly has lit a fire in me for helping all faculty to improve student learning. From my students, whose unwavering insistence on academic excellence and on receiving the best educational opportunities within and outside the classroom has always kept me honest in my efforts to challenge them and to help them become deep, reflective learners not just bulimic learners interested in accumulating so-called facts and checking off requirements toward graduation. And, most significantly and dearly, from the love and patience of my family and friends, who have forgiven all my long days and nights devoted to my teaching, my students, and my college.

Have I wandered a bit again? Perhaps a bit. But wandering is good. Don't resist it. In these stressful times in higher education-assailed as we feel in so many overwhelming, sometimes discouraging ways not just from without but even from within-getting lost in the wonder of our vocations and avocations is, remember, work "For Heaven and the future's sakes." Thank you, President Whitson for believing in me and for supporting the major and programs that I love. Thank you, Carnegie, CASE, and all of you for the incalculable delight of this honor. I take it as a sign that teaching-no, significant, transformative, liberal student learning-still matters in the academy, that investments in technology, boutique programs, accreditation, efficiency data, ubiquitous logos for the 21st century, and other current mantras are secondary to our work and our "play for mortal stakes." This award is a testimony of the stakes in our work. Thank you all for the reminder. Thank you all not for honoring me or any of us lucky enough to have been selected for the distinction of U.S. Professor of the Year but for honoring and celebrating the hard work of teaching in promoting the gift, the transformational magic, of student learning. What better tribute do we have for our wanderings?


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