Thursday, November 8, 2012

ave, storyteller

Back in 1998, I was mostly an idiot.

I had just finished my freshman year of college and decided to stay for summer school, because I was just that kind of overachiever. I secured a haunted dorm room, made plans with my boyfriend, and registered. Pickings were slim, and the only classes I remember were Cryptography and Classics.

My relationship with studying history has always been conflicted. If the teacher is a good storyteller, I really enjoy it. If the teacher just woodenly outlines the book, I stop caring. Therefore, when I arrived for my first day of Classics, I had my reservations. With two 5s in AP History, I didn't need to take a single History class in college. So when Professor Best, a gentleman with an old-fashioned, patrician Southern accent, explained that only one person in the class would get an A, three people would get Bs, and the rest would fail, I had to stop and think.

Risk my perfect GPA for a class I didn't even need?

I looked around at my fellow classmates. They looked terrified.

"You get one class," I said to myself, eyes narrowed as I watched Professor Best get comfortable. "If this lecture isn't amazing, I'm dropping."

As soon as he started speaking, I was spellbound. It ended up being one of my favorite classes in college. I can still remember sitting, rapt and barefoot, as he described the battle at Thermopylae. I can hear his voice as he raged, "You come back with your shield, or YOU COME BACK ON IT." I can still remember the way every test felt like a personal dare. And I recall the genuine pride I felt when I received high marks. For once, I was actually working my ass off for my As. Not that you knew it, when speaking to Professor Best. He was stern, strict, and proud, and he never, ever had a kind word for anyone. He was downright verbally abusive to the kids who deserved it. But his lectures were so thrilling that I didn't mind.

The final for that class was an unholy beast, and I destroyed it. In order to find out our grades, we had to come by his office to check a list, and it so happens that when I came by, he was in. He stood, chin high, hands clasped.

"Miz Southard," he said, and he pronounced it Suhhh-thuuuud. "Is your mother living?"
"Yes, sir."
"You tell her..."
He leaned back even further, pinned me with his sharp glare.
"You tell her I said she raised you right."
It came out raaaaaat.

Honestly, that's one of my favorite moments from college. I graduated a year early with honors, but that was the first time I accepted a challenge, took a risk, rose to the occasion, and really glowed with accomplishment. Professor Best's good esteem meant the world to me and still does.

But that was supposed to be the last class he taught at UGA. I tried looking him up to see if he is still living, but have you ever tried Googling "Professor Best"? It doesn't work at all. And I don't remember his first name, although I think it might have been Carl. (Note: we found him! His name is Edward!)

I try not to be a person who carries regrets. But when I think back to that class, to that summer, I wish I had spent more time at college doing the unsafe thing. Instead of getting an art degree as fast as possible with a minimum of trouble, I wish I had studied something new, taken more risks, learned more things outside of my comfort zone. I wish I hadn't given up on Italian as soon as my degree requirements were met. I wish I had studied something that wasn't art, because I was already an artist. I could have been something else, too.

I was the only person in that class who earned an A, and of all the As I've ever earned, that one meant the most. But in the end, the grade wasn't what mattered--it was the storytelling that brought history to life and stayed with me. When I stood on the plain of Thermopylae the next summer, I had tears coursing down my cheeks as I heard Professor Best's voice in my head, recounting the battle. And when I saw 300, I hoped that he lived to see it, even if it just made him angry.

Wherever you are, Professor Best, thank you.

* * *


Virginia Valerie said...

Geez, D. You write in a way that makes us care. I sit here with tears streaming down MY cheeks and I NEED TO KNOW - what happened to Prof. Best??

Great post.

Darcy Drake said...

I just... Wow. Last part gave me chills!

Lexi H said...

I is painfully obvious Delilah that you are a writer. You can turn a post about your college history professor into a moving experience!