Dear Mrs. Cunningham…

Dear Mrs. Cunningham,

I write you today to share some information about your son Charles (also known as Charlie, Chuck, C-squared and C-dizzle).  As you know, Charles has been in the emergency management program for awhile.  As a faculy member who often is saddened to see students leave I have been gratified that we have been able to keep Charles for so many years.  I imagine as his mother you may wonder when he will finally complete college, get a full-time job and move forward with his life (or at least beyond college).  Mother to mother – I can fully appreciate how that question may become more pressing in your mind with each passing semester and no graduation on the near horizon.  Indeed, that is why I write you today.

I had an epiphany when sitting with a group of students yesterday after completing the Boys State exercise (Charles was in the group).  I recognized that I wasn’t really ready to let him go from the program…that I was dis-encouraging him from graduating.  Charles of course believes this has to do with the fact that I want him to continue his work on projects that are near and dear to my heart – projects such as Teen CERT.  Admittedly, I do not look forward to losing the time, energy and passion he puts into that program.  But truly that is not why I continue to suggest he seek additional majors to attach to his EM degree or take additional classes.

Some may think that I am dragging my feet because he is always at the ready to help with whatever is needed – be it EM related or not.  Indeed, he has explained the mechanics of cars many a time before in the past when I have been leary of auto repair shops; he has offered to give me rides to the campus on days when I am trapped on my street by snow that is too deep for my car to traverse; and, he is constantly picking lint or other debris off my suits as we go about places to make me more presentable (I imagine he does this to you as well as he has indicated that my daughter Cheyenne needs to get better at giving me the once over before letting me go out of the house – apparently you taught him well).  Alas, as nice as it is to have him around and at the ready to do a myriad of things that is not why I hesitate to encourage him to move forward.

I have reflected a long time on why it is that I have encouraged Charles to pursue a decade long journey toward his four year degree (which will allow me at least a handful more years with him).  Here is what I concluded Mrs. Cunningham, Charles represents something to me much bigger than himself…something that is at the core of my teaching existence.  He serves as a reminder to me of why I many years ago chose teaching over practice and why I continue to teach even on the days when I sometimes think other things may be more momentarily exciting or pay better.

You see, Charles is an example of the student that comes to our program not really understanding at the outset the depth of his potential.  His arrival on the scene was demarcated by a healthy mix of self-deprecating humor, genuine interest and blue collar charm; but,  I don’t believe he ever expected to emerge as a central figure in our program.  I believe in the beginning he just wanted to do what it took to get through the program and move on.  But over time, Charles emerged as more of a leader – not that this emergence changed a single thing about his personality.  Over time his honesty and reliability became more an enduring imprint of interaction with him than his quick, sarcastic wit and good-natured personality.  He started to watch over newer students – somethines teaching them things I wish he wouldn’t, but mostly sharing with them the passion he has developed for the field.

Now I look at Charles and am reminded of the sheer potential that often lies beneath the wise-cracking comments and try-and-get-away-with-stuff smiles of some of my students who do not yet know themselves the depth of their potential.  He reminds me by his example of why it is so important to look at each student individually and to examine what they bring to the table beyond the persona they evidence to friends in the classroom.  He reminds me that heart is one of the most integral components of success in the field of emergency management.

Charles has evolved to become not only an advocate, but also a leader in the program. He has also become a strong advocate of emergency management and a representation of the value of next generation creativity for the field.  His presence on the campus serves as a tangible reminder of why I do what I do.  And while there are others like him there really is only one C-dizzle.  So I hope you won’t mind if we keep him here with us for awhile longer – just until I retire in about 15 years.


Carol Cwiak

Day seven hundred and eleven of the new forty – obla di obla da

Ms. C