If you’re lucky in life, a handful of people change your perspective on the world. Just a handful. For me, those people were mostly professors when I first ventured out into the world and moved 1200 miles away for college…alone. On the surface, that first academic venture failed miserably, as I dropped out after two years. But it was still paramount to making me who I am now.
Those few professors opened up the world for me, to many topics, ideas, and ideologies. Dr. Donna Budani opened my mind to cultural studies after I took a few of her mid-level anthropology courses in the 1991/1992 year. (I hadn’t even been sure what “anthropology” was until then!) She also gave me my first college “A,” at a time when so many other courses were pushing me toward disenchantment, if not misery. Thanks to her, I went on to add a second major in anthropology when I returned to school. Another of those inspiring professors was Dr. Alexander Lehrman.
Thanks to the Cold War, I entered to college to major in Russian, and Dr. Lehrman became my first Russian professor…and one of my first professors in general. Not only did he teach a few of my classes, but he also filled in for others in the department when they were out. He had such a passion for teaching and was very patient as we slaughtered his native language in the early years. I remember his shoulder-bouncing chuckle and smile that showed his delight in our feeble attempts. Even still he meant business. He didn’t just make us do our best, he made us want to do our best.
It was a pretty rough time for me. I was a bit lonely and a bit overwhelmed by (and in awe of) all the possibilities of the world. But Dr. Lehrman always made me feel good about my work in Russian, even though I stubbornly refused to write in cursive script for very long. (I never wrote English in cursive after 7th grade!) His stories about his adventurous emigration out of the Soviet Union made me feel a bit better about my “emigration” from Mississippi. We all want something better in life, and some of us have to go a bit further to get it. He was proof of that.
One of my biggest regrets in college is that I wasn’t able to continue with Russian when I returned after a long absence. It would have required more classes and more time than I could dedicate, so I reluctantly put it aside. Since graduating, I considered using some course fee-waivers to take a few Russian classes until I leave University employment. I suppose I still could, but now it just wouldn’t be the same. Dr. Lehrman died in October, at only 59 years old.
For a while I couldn’t quite grasp why his passing upset me, aside from his young age. (My father died at 58, and my younger brother died at 21.) It was also more than just the loss of a dedicated professor who cared about his students or the fact that I saw him from time to time walking through campus. But I think his loss also closes a chapter for me…one that I had refused to close on my own for quite some time. I genuinely loved my first year in college. I loved taking Russian courses, and I still love the Russian language to this day. While there are still great Russian professors at the University, including Dr. Lehrman’s wife, Dr. Amert (whom I also adored), I think it would be too sad to go back. Something would really be missing.
So it’s safe to say that Dr. Lehrman will really be missed.
До свидания, профессор.