Written by Dr. Ellen Justice-Templeton
This speech was delivered at a reception at the College on April 29, 2015 by Dr. Ellen Justice-Templeton, retiring Chairwoman and Professor of French.
Yesterday, I finished my last class at Hillsdale College: French 201. After the students left, I stood there for a moment trying to take in this really important event, and what should pop into my head but the Carol Burnett song:
I’m so glad we’ve had this time together
just to have a laugh or sing a song
seems we just get started and before you know it
comes the time we have to say so long.
Are you kidding me? I couldn’t believe it. This is what I think of to mark the occasion? I walked out of Lane Hall a little depressed and disappointed in myself and then I saw so many of you lined up and waiting for me along the walkway. What a splendid memory that will make!
People have been asking me now for several weeks if my leaving is bittersweet, and I must say I am somewhat sad right now, but that’s a wonderful thing. It’s a real blessing to be able to feel so good about the end of a career. I was kidding to Marie-Claire Morellec yesterday that she and a lot of you Hillsdale people are trying to kill me off. My heart may not be able to take many more surprise parties, ambushes, and unexpected awards. It is filled to overflowing. All of you have made me feel a part of a truly noble enterprise, and I’m proud to have been able to contribute to it.
My husband, Gene, is my future now, and I’m excited to go forward in life with him. He’s my champion, my steadfast partner in all things, and I am so grateful for his unfailing love. He’s been there to celebrate my triumphs and support me in my defeats. We’ve faced challenges, as we all do, and will undoubtedly face more-but we’ll do that together and that gives me peace and confidence as we begin life’s next chapter.
I have so many good memories of this place and of all of you. I especially want to thank Larry Arnn for making Hillsdale such a vibrant, thriving community of teachers and learners. Every day when I come up the walk to school, I marvel at how truly beautiful our campus is and read all the names of people I remember in the bricks. In the classroom, I’ve been able to talk about great ideas and great literature to sincere young people who don’t laugh because they love them too, and that’s been such a gift.
Penny Arnn is a true treasure for Hillsdale. We’ve all been treated to her warmth, kindness, and hospitality, and I want to thank her for it. On campus, our team of secretaries are unparalleled in their professionalism and efficiency. Denise Nivison has saved me countless times in so many ways, from retrieving my lost keys, to duplicating a test on short notice, to arranging transportation for our French club outings. So has Pat Loper. I will miss their cheerful greetings whenever I drop into their offices with my latest plea for help. And the library staff too has always been so supportive of all our academic needs. Whatever question I’ve had, Linda Moore, Dan Knoch, and Maurine McCourry have been ready with the answer. They’ve been great friends too.
Bob Blackstock, Sam Knecht and I were all kids together when we began this adventure. Bob went on to be a great provost and still is a wonderful colleague. David Whalen has big shoes to fill and seems to be doing a great job of it so far. I am an unabashed admirer of Sam’s beautiful paintings. Hillsdale has been blessed to have such a talented artist and gifted teacher.
Well, when I sat down to reflect on what I would like to say to you all, I almost gave up in despair: there are too many people I want to thank: Tom Burke for his unflappable guidance of the Humanities division, Tom Connor for his congeniality and his love of things French, Olga Muniz and Kevin Teegarden for their example of devotion and courage in the face of adversity, Eberhard Geyer for his fine scholarship and leadership. I don’t get to see Amanda Stechschulte’s radiant smile as often as I’d like because she’s busy raising her family. But I always enjoy her so much and I had the privilege of having her daughter, Hannah, in one of my advanced French classes. Kirstin Kiledal, Paul Hosmer, Zach Miller, and Rebecca Houghton are my former students, so I take real pleasure in seeing all their accomplishments.
All you wonderful people in every discipline whose talents and friendship Gene and I have so appreciated over the years: Ranessa Cooper, Angie Pytel, Chris Vanorman and Chris Busch, Mark Nussbaum, Mark Kalthoff, Don Turner, Don Westblade, Frank Steiner, Ken Hayes, Lucy Moye, Debi Belt, Jim Peters, Michael Jordan, John Somerville, and Bob Eden. I could go on and on, but I have to end this somewhere, so you can get on to your dinners and grading!
The College’s face is changing with so many new young colleagues that I can’t even keep track of them all. But I know they will move Hillsdale forward. People like Fred Yaniga and Stephen Naumann will carry on the high standards and traditions my friend Eberhard has established in the German department. Lorraine Eadie reminds me of myself when I was young and earnest. She’s off to a wonderful career, and I can only hope she’ll be as happy here as I have been.
I am going to find it especially hard to leave my colleagues, friends, and lunch companions in the modern languages. Maria Rebbert has helped me steer the French program for more years than I care to remember, always with good humor and a genuine concern for the well-being of her colleagues and her students. She’ll be following me into retirement next year, and Hillsdale will be much the poorer for that. Marie-Claire Morellec will chair the French department with great skill and charm. She has made this year of transition so easy for me with her thoughtfulness, efficiency, and true friendship. And she’s made my life so much fun too with her wit and ready laugh. So has Carmen Wyatt-Hayes. I’d be willing to wager that our lunches around the table in my office are the most amusing on campus. And Carmen can always be counted on to entertain her Delp hall-mates with a song when the spirit moves her. I will miss her cheer, compassion, and warmth. Finally, there’s Sandy Puvogel, my good friend and wise counselor. She guides the Spanish program with steady grace and integrity and she’s been an invaluable partner with me in our efforts to give our students the best foreign language education we can.
I wound up my last class in my God and Man seminar Monday with one of my favorite books, Terre des hommesby Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Most people know him as the author of the children’s story, Le Petit Prince. But as Justin Jackson teaches our students there is a lot more than a fairytale in that little book. Terre des hommes is Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince for les grandes personnes. In it, he recounts his adventures as a mail pilot at the beginning of aviation and draws life lessons out of them. When Saint-Exupéry began delivering the mail between France and Africa, planes were very unreliable and prone to fall out of the sky. A flock of sheep on a hill in Spain could bring down the plane by charging it and getting tangled up in the wheels as it flew over barely above the ground. So, he lost a lot of comrades over the years. This is a paraphrase and rough translation of what he has to say about old friends:
Nothing can replace the lost companion. You cannot create old friends. Nothing can equal the treasure of so many memories held in common. When you plant an oak, it is futile to expect to seek shade soon under its canopy. So is life. We have enriched ourselves; we have planted over the years, but the years have undone our work and the forest has lost its trees.
I think of all the people who have come before us on this campus and have since departed: George Oetgen, Libby Rick, Kay Cosgrove, Bob Rice, and Mark Cousino, to name just a few who have shaped my life. But Saint-Exupéry’s message isn’t a sad one and neither is mine. He’s saying the same thing as that sappy sign at the outskirts to Hillsdale states considerably less elegantly. And it’s what I’ve been trying to say too with way too many words: “Hillsdale, it’s the people.”
Well, it really is! Thank you all so much!