Yesterday, I read news on Facebook about the death of one of our graduate school professors, Dr. Joe Cash. With the exception of social media, I hadn't kept in touch with Dr. Cash, but the news of his death made me stop a lot this weekend and ponder what it means to leave a legacy and how it is that people, specifically teachers, do that. I thought of Dr. Cash and what he meant in my life today while in a parking lot at Michael's waiting for Brendan to pick up some supplies.
I thought about Dr. Cash's course on the Major Writers of the Romantic Period that Brendan and I both took in the fall of our second year (2009). I discovered my love for gothic literature in that class, and I remember being excited that Dr. Cash was encouraging about my paper topic idea, which was looking at how horror and humor worked in Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. It may have been the most fun I've ever had writing a research paper. If it weren't for Dr. Cash, that's all the project would have been, but he wanted me to do something more with it: present the paper at the SCMLA conference the following year. I remember feeling intimidated by the idea. I was "just a graduate student" and didn't have confidence that my research was interesting or innovative enough to present it in front of a panel. But Dr. Cash was so encouraging and so convinced that I could pull it off. I submitted the abstract just to tell him I had done it, and then, much to my surprise, I was actually accepted to the panel.
Dr. Cash was so happy when I told him about the acceptance. He promised me that he'd be there to see the presentation himself, so then there really was no backing out! Getting ready to present that first time felt like a huge undertaking. I borrowed equipment from my mom and from the university for my presentation and spent a lot of time prepping my powerpoint. Those that were at McNeese with me know that the fall of my third year in school was a particularly hard time for me. Despite everything that was going on in my life, I was determined to make it to that conference. Dr. Cash even told me that the chair of the English Department at Sul Ross, a friend of his, was going to be there, and that they were planning to hire. He said he would bring her to the presentation and make sure to put in a good word for me (no pressure, right?!).
That first SCMLA was like nothing I've experienced since. I had a huge audience (something like 50 people), which is a lot more than I've ever had since. I wonder just how many people Dr. Cash convinced to attend? Despite some technology issues, the presentation went well. I felt good about it and so proud of myself for doing it. At the end of the session, I was nominated to be secretary for the following year's gothic literature session. The trip was a kind of turning point in the semester for me. I came back from it pulled together and convinced I'd be okay.
Sul Ross didn't end up opening a position that spring, but it didn't end up mattering; Dr. Cash may not have realized it, but he'd given me the confidence to see myself as a professional. When I went on the job market that spring, I applied for eighty positions (and I ended up in west Texas anyway, maybe because Dr. Cash had me excited about Alpine?) And another part of the legacy Dr. Cash left in my life...I've never missed a SCMLA conference since that first one. I present every year and have now presented on gothic literature, fiction writers, metafiction/metatheatre, teaching freshman composition, and science fiction panels. I've even chaired several of the panels. SCMLA has had a huge impact in my life: I look forward to it every year, and it has given me such an enjoyable outlet for professional development. Plus, I've traveled to many fun cities because of it and have a yearly built in reunion with McNeese friends because of it too.
I haven't spoken to Dr. Cash in years, but I found myself crying in the parking lot of Michael's today thinking of what he meant in my life. Though our paths only crossed for a short period of time, he was a voice of encouragement that shaped my life as I know it. As a professor, his impact is a reminder to me to be encouraging to all the students I encounter. I know Dr. Cash is remembered by many students, and I hope he had an idea of the number of lives he influenced for the better. This is a photo of him (center) accepting his Professor Emeritus award at McNeese, and this is how I remember him.
Rest in peace, Dr. Cash. I have no doubt you will be remembered for your enthusiasm in the classroom and for seeing the potential in your students long before they saw it in themselves.