I walked in, did a double-take at the class demographics, breathed deep, and improvised. With help.
It was my first January term at Wofford. My program coordinator had called me a few months before I started the job, while I was squaring away details for my dissertation defense, and asked me what I wanted to teach for Interim. The proposals are technically due tomorrow, and we think we forgot to tell you. I mapped out a helter-skelter plan to study the culture of contemporary Greece and marked the box next to “grading scale A-F” on the form.
Only when I arrived on campus did I realize most projects were “honors-pass-fail.” Graded ones usually enrolled students in GPA trouble or athletes who wanted to pick up more weighted hours out of season.
Like my class: two camps. All male. Self-segregated: African-American and white, one row apart. Double take. Deep breath. Help.
One student sat between the two clusters. We started class. Andrew interacted with both sides with ease, drew them together. The class took their cues from him, and I was grateful. A quiet leader. A generous contributor.
The class developed an atmosphere of learning, fun, respect. When a student greeted me on campus by throwing his arms out sideways, Zorba-style, and doing a quick step, I figured it was going well. The last days of the term, we cooked Greek food at my house. Andrew manned the grill, chatting with others who peeled potatoes on the porch.
Not quite four years later, in December 2004, First Lieutenant Andrew Shields of the South Carolina Army National Guard, died in Mosul, Iraq, in a helicopter crash. I saw the news on TV, cradling my infant son on the couch after dinner. Called my husband into the room, told him the story again. He was the student who made that class work. Andrew left behind parents and siblings, including a twin brother. He also left behind a legacy of care; hundreds who attended his funeral recalled it.
This Memorial Day, nine years after his death, I’m remembering Andrew. And I’m saying thanks to all the quiet leaders and generous contributors, in uniform and out, who like him, have made the spaces we share better.