My undergraduate studies took place at Presbyterian College, a liberal arts school of about 1,000 students in Clinton, S.C. The town was so small that you had to leave it to find a McDonald's or go to a movie.
The campus was picturesque. Old, tall oak trees, brick buildings, a lawn where students played Frisbee and football, a girls' freshman dorm that had shared bathrooms in the hall and no air conditioning.
When I started, I knew only one other student (the previous year's valedictorian from my high school), but I gained many lifelong friends along the way.
While the college's social scene was fun and active, its faculty set the institution apart. The professors were focused on students and teaching rather than publishing; the class sizes were small enough that the professors knew exactly who you were and exactly what you could do. They knew how to inspire students to get the most out of them.
One of them was my academic adviser, Dr. Fred Chapman. He had served as chairman of the school's Business Department and academic dean. He first taught me in an introduction to economics class. His practice of asking students questions and his willingness to use his dry wit on any whose answers fell short ensured I arrived at his classes prepared.
Anyone caught talking would be the next to be questioned, and he often asked that the responses be delivered standing. No slackers were allowed in his classes. He favored the Socratic method, prizing critical thinking and successful argument over rote memorization.
During high school, I had been a quiet student who sat in the back of the class, hoping to be overlooked. But Chapman pulled me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to be more vocal and outgoing in my academic pursuits. Under his tutelage, my confidence grew in my ability to stake out a position and defend it.
He guided me in the selection of my major as well as my classes, and continually challenged me by moving the bar a little bit higher each time. His quick wit and bright smile, as well as his belief in me, helped me believe in myself.
Known for tough classes and tougher exams, Chapman continually warned us students that we would soon be entering the world of all 8 o'clock classes and no cuts. He said that, as hard as we might view college to be, we would find life after college to be harder and less forgiving (he was right). While I often cut other classes (almost any class located on the third floor of Neville Hall), I showed up for his — no matter how early they started.
He made sure we knew he had high expectations for us. I remember fondly a reception where parents were mingling with the staff and students. My parents were visiting, and Chapman told them that I was running on six cylinders, even though I had eight. They both laughed and agreed, and I resolved to work harder. In his understated way, Chapman had found a way to compliment me and challenge me at the same time — a perfect example of his genius.
It was not so much what he taught that left such a lasting impression. Instead, it was his belief in his students and his belief that, in a world of all 8 o'clock classes and no cuts, we would not only survive, but thrive.
The motto of Presbyterian College is Dum Vivimus Servimus, "While We Live We Serve." Fred Chapman died this week. While he lived, he served others, and helped us become better people along the way.
To Dr. Chapman, thank you for your belief in others and your unwavering belief that we could be more and do more.
Jackie Gingrich Cushman is the co-author, along with her father, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of the book "5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours." Read more reports from Jackie Gingrich Cushman — Click Here Now.
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