The small college in Vermont where I went to school lent itself to an environment where students and faculty and staff had the chance to really get to know each other. Resident assistants, student leaders, student orientation staff, student athletes, frankly just about everyone, had the chance to create lasting relationships with professors and deans and even the college president. I sometimes wonder if that’s still possible now that the college has grown so much–I hope so!
There was an occasion where many of those relationships began. It was called Freshman Dinner. I believe it was the culminating event for new student orientation. Throughout the first semester groups of freshman were invited to come to a somewhat formal dinner with faculty, administrators, and our student orientation leader. It was held in the Campus Center’s Formal Lounge and catered by the college’s food service. It was not the normal dining hall food and we didn’t eat off plastic trays. Tables were set with linens, china, glasses, flatware, candles and flowers.
At each table a group of 7 or 8 students sat looking at each other, not saying much, sitting somewhat uncomfortably because we had to “dress” for the dinner; waiting patiently for the faculty or staff person at the table to say something, anything. At my table was one of the college’s two associate academic deans, Dean Beston. She was a tall, striking women with blonde hair styled as you might imagine a high school teacher from the 1960’s. She was always properly dressed–I don’t ever remember her wearing slacks, even on the athletic fields.
I’m sure we were led through one of the many get-to-know-you activities that were a routine part of orientation. I don’t recall the conversation exactly, but what I do remember is my interaction with Dean Beston. As we were leaving the table she was thanking each of us all for the evening and lively discussion, she shook my hand and said, “You’re a very eloquent speaker. You’re going to do very well here.” That was it, that’s all she said to me. I hadn’t heard her say that to anyone else.
I was inspired by that compliment. As I walked back to the dorm I suddenly felt as though I had something to live up to.
Looking back, it was one of those defining moments in my life and I believe it drove me to be my best when speaking in public. Dean Beston left the college in my sophomore year. I didn’t get to know her as well as some of the other folks who impacted my college career. But I think it’s important to thank her anyway.