We never know when a seemingly small event can have a life changing effect.
In October 1952 I was a 17-year-old freshman at the University of Michigan attending a world history class. That day I would receive the first major test result of my college career and it would change my life.
As the tests were being handed back, Professor Dunham was telling the class he knew we could do better. I felt he was looking at me.
When I received mine, the grade was C+. This was terrible. I was a premed and enjoyed history. This was the only course I was confident of earning an A and this was a poor start.
Not able to shake the eerie feeling that Professor Dunham had singled me out of a lecture class of nearly a hundred, I decided to make an appointment to see him in his office. When I arrived, it was clear he did not know who I was.
Professor Dunham was in his 60s and had already told the class that he would be retiring in 1956, the same year we would be graduating. Without either of us discussing why I was there, the professor began a lively conversation telling me he graduated from Harvard and accepted a faculty position in Ann Arbor to the consternation of his family. Our conversation was relaxed and comforting. He did not mention my grade and I said nothing about my feeling he was speaking just to me. My test scores improved, and I received an A in the course.
Over the next four years I signed up for every class that Professor Dunham taught. His specialty was French history with a sub-specialty in economics. Over the four years I visited his office once or twice a year with no special reason but was always received warmly.
When it was time for the final examination in the last course I took from Professor Dunham, I was a senior and had been accepted to medical school. I misread the schedule published in the Michigan Daily and missed the test. I called Professor Dunham’s home that afternoon and asked him what I should do. He said that he was not feeling well and would be in bed early, but I should come to his house let myself in through the garage and go to his home office and take the test.
When I finished, I wrote a short note to Professor Dunham thanking him for is guidance, friendship and, all that he taught me for the last four years. I received an A in every course and that was a big help for my average. The usual practice at a final examination at the University of Michigan was to leave a postcard with your test requesting that the final grade be sent to you.
My postcard was returned with an A grade and a note from Professor Dunham which said, “You are an excellent student, keen and loyal and that is a teacher’s great reward.” I have kept the professor’s book, The Industrial Revolution in France 1815 to 1848, which was the text for the course, and this postcard with me for 70 years. This man was my first mentor and was instrumental in my becoming a doctor, more than any of the physicians who taught me. I only hope that everyone has luck to meet somebody like this. Oh, and I ended up majoring in history, unusual for a premed, but never regretted.
By Savvy Senior
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