Dear Dr. Gierut:
Indiana University was ranked 7th in the nation for its Speech and Hearing Sciences graduate program in 1998, the year I began working towards my graduate degree in speech-language pathology there. Perhaps I’ve gone overboard with my inclusion of paperwork from your graduate level courses, but I included it intentionally because it tells a story. A story of you, a brilliant professor. A professor who without a doubt elevated the status and reputation of Indiana University’s Speech and Hearing Sciences program, both internally and externally. I completed graduate school 13 years ago, and have held you in the highest regard since.
You entered the room with authority and dignity. Your tailored suits, clean-lined sweater sets, short dark hair, and glasses that rested perfectly on your nose fit your personality to a T. You were a petite woman, but there was no messing with you. Absolutely none. We knew you meant business, and you commanded our attention, our dedication to the science of speech.
No doubt about it, you were a scientist. Highly regarded, your work was published too many times for the average Joe to count. It seemed you always had a paper “in press,” about to be published. I knew it was an honor to be under your instruction, and to this day, I still consider your instruction a once in a lifetime gift.
The way the words spilled out of your mouth so eloquently proved your brilliance. Place of production and manner of production were your basics. Nasals, stops, fricatives, affricates, liquids, and glides? They were a given. Same goes for bilabial, alveo-palatal, labio-dental and the like. But before I knew it, things became much more complicated. Extremely complex words and concepts came spewing out of your mouth, like ambient, coronal, major class distinctions, nonmajor class distinctions, contrastiveness, distinctive features, phone trees, monovalent features, inventory constraints, positional constraint, maximal opposition, free variation, and complementary distribution. You expected us to know it all, and we did.
The expectation you held for us, your graduate students, was absolute excellence. There was no way we were going to pass your class unless we studied our brains out. We were all a bunch of wild and crazy overachievers the way it was, but we’d become studying maniacs in the days leading up to exams in your class. I vividly recall being among the last to complete your exams. Your brilliance and knowledge of the field inspired me tremendously, so I studied as hard as I could and wanted to show what I knew. But clearly, I was slower to process than the rest of the fast-thinking men and women in class, so I trotted along at my own pace. Thank goodness you and your doctoral assistant didn’t make me feel like an absolute idiot when I was second to last or last to turn in my exam.
It’s been 13 years since I completed graduate school and earned my master’s degree in speech-language pathology. Those were the most intellectually taxing years of my life, and your classes were the most academically challenging by a landslide. As students, we were gifted with a wealth of knowledge from your teaching. The impact you made on me as a student, as well as a professional was tremendous. The theories and treatment methods you taught are applicable to this day. Although I’ve forgotten much of the detail, the basic foundations of your teachings have remained intact and have had far-reaching positive impacts on my 13+ year career treating children with speech and language disorders.
When I look through the paperwork from your courses, 13 years after graduation, here’s the heart of what I see. I see a professor dedicated to her career. I see a woman who LOVED her work. I see a brilliant mind, able to deconstruct sounds and words like no other. I see a woman who took extravagant care to tend to every detail. I see a professor who wanted to bring out the very best in her students (and did just that). I see a woman who gave it her all, exerted maximum effort, fulfilled her potential and beyond. I see you. A woman of integrity and excellence. A woman worthy of these words of praise and gratitude.
So thank you Dr. Gierut. The admiration I have for you in my heart hasn’t been completely captured with the words I’ve shared today, but I want you to know you made an impression that will last a lifetime. You’re going down as my most favorite, inspiring, and brilliant professor of all time.
*If you’d like to read more from my #31Days Letters to the Unthanked series, click here for the landing page where all the letters are listed and linked!