You Should be a Teacher

I sent this letter to Dr. Ball for the inaugural National Mentoring Month in January 2002. He emailed a response back to me that made me feel like I wanted to come sit in the front row of freshman core class all over again! He will be sorely missed.

Patrick Kelley ’93 (Патрик Келли), Peace Corps Ukraine
Community Development Volunteer (Развитие Сообщество) with Charitable Foundation "Virtus"

Dear Dr. Ball,

“You should be a teacher.”

You probably don’t remember uttering those words to me. Or maybe you do. You’re kind of amazing that way. I had just finished emceeing an alumni recognition event, hosted by my fraternity, with almost 100 faculty, staff, alumni and students present. As people left, you came up to me and took my hand. I thanked you for coming, and you asked what my plans were after I graduate. I didn’t have a clue. You looked at me with those raised eyebrows and said, “You should be a teacher. You have an unassuming presence when you speak from your heart that not many do.”

And just like that, you had given me another perspective that I hadn’t taken the time to give myself. You did that (and continue to do it) for many people. Maybe that’s why so many of us have asked you to perform our wedding ceremonies. Or why, when we think of Whitman College, our first memory is of you riding your bicycle across campus, or playing tennis as the leaves fall from the trees onto the court.

You were always there – as advisor, teacher, mentor, friend. I recognize that “unassuming presence” in you, as well. You taught me that it was possible to be spiritual, without being religious. You taught me that emotions such as anger, sorrow, and guilt are part of what makes us all human, just as the importance of getting past these emotions is, as well. You were the first person I came to see after my friend Jill passed away, and you sat and listened to me for over an hour in the middle of the day. No appointment necessary, even for someone who had already graduated at that point.

I’m writing this letter as part of National Mentoring Month, an event that my organization is sponsoring locally in the Seattle area. But it’s more than that. You should know, if you don’t already, that when Whitties get together around the world and talk about our days at Whitman, Dr. George Ball is always one of the first topics of discussion. EVERYONE has a “Dr. Ball memory” to share. That is truly incredible.

The last time we spoke was at a wedding in Walla Walla in 1998. Do you remember? It was for Professor Rubin’s son, Adam. You came right up to me at the reception, took my hand, and said, “How was Korea? Did you enjoy teaching?” Then you ended it with the same phrase you’ve ended most of our conversations with since I’ve graduated: “I miss seeing you in the front row.”

Well, Dr. Ball, sometimes I miss looking up and seeing you at the lectern. I thought you should know that, too.