Hi everyone! I am currently in the process of transcribing the interview I am supposed to post tomorrow, but due to a week full of mishaps and insanity (at this point, all I can do is laugh) I have not completed my blogging duties. I am helping a friend move to Denver from the Twin Cities tomorrow so I will HOPEFULLY have everything transcribed and post when we arrive. I’m very excited about this interview (to be fair, I’m excited about all of them) and I can’t wait to share it with you. To pique your interest, I have written an introduction to explain my relationship with the interviewee. So get excited.
Interview 6: Damon
To properly introduce my next interviewee, I must explain the circumstances under which I met him.
Those who know me know that I attended Georgia Tech, a school known for the quality of engineers it turns out. Part of creating these engineers entails destroying their psyches through sleep deprivation, an unyielding workload, and belittlement through grade deflation. But I digress.
Georgia Tech is a challenging school, but an intellectually un-stimulating one. Open discussion is a rarity for some majors, and non-existent for others. Professors are not there to teach, but instead are there to do research—teaching is an unfortunate side-job.
When I stepped into Damon’s class, I was a fourth year Industrial Engineering student. I was burned out on math class after math class, at the tail end of a three-year emotionally abusive relationship, and tired of classmates who seemed to only care about schoolwork, complaining about schoolwork, and drinking.
Damon’s first day of class was clearly intended to be an eye-opener, and it certainly was. He is an imposing presence on first encounter: tall, broad-shouldered, and—an unfortunate rarity in the engineering world—Black. He speaks clearly and precisely, his sentences are measured and calm, and you can’t help but be drawn in to what he is saying. Especially when, on the first day of class, he tells you there will be a quiz next class on the concepts he teaches that day. He wanted us to learn, and to learn well—and to be disciplined in our learning.
I was intrigued and terrified.
When I sat down the next night to study for this impending quiz, I got a phone call from my mother, telling me that my grandfather had collapsed at a routine dentist’s appointment and they didn’t think he would make it through the night.
While waiting for my parents to pick me up on the way to the hospital in Macon, I shot some emails to my professors, explaining I would be missing class. The email I spent the most time crafting was the one to Damon—I was terrified at the prospect of missing his quiz. I knew I couldn’t get in trouble for it—but it wasn’t the first impression I wanted to leave on such an imposing professor.
The next several days were a whirr. I stayed up all night in the hospital, as we waited for the news we already knew—my grandfather was brain-dead. We took him off life support and stayed with him until he took his last breath. I alternated between being overwhelmed with despair and being completely void of emotion.
I came home, went to class, went back to Macon for the funeral, came home again, and rescheduled my quiz with Damon.
I tried to study. Or rather, I tried to try to study. Instead I filled the emptiness with Netflix and Hulu. I didn’t care anymore.
When I walked into Damon’s office to take the quiz, I was surprised by his warmth and kindness. He had demonstrated his healthy sense of humor in class but the formidable professor was all of a sudden also a caring mentor. I didn’t know the solution to the quiz. I shrugged and tried to laugh it off, wanting to escape back to my cave of candy and dumb movies.
But Damon cared. He wanted me to understand the concept. He didn’t accept my failed quiz—he told me to come back and take it again when I was ready.
In my entire college career, I had never experienced such a feeling.
Once I realized how much Damon wanted us to learn in his class, I wanted to learn from him. He seemed to have as much stake in our success as we did—and it just made me want to impress him.
Of course, he knew my name from the first week of class, which meant he called me out whenever I wasn’t paying attention. I intentionally always sat in the front of a class to force myself to keep my eyes on the board, but even then had had trouble maintaining concentration. Damon called my attention back. He asked me to answer questions. I was so used to going off in a daze I no longer knew how to answer when a professor called on me. He helped me walk through the problem until I found the solution. It could be embarrassing and awkward, but it truly helped me learn.
The difference between Damon and most of my other professors was that Damon didn’t just care. He held me to a higher standard. Which, in turn, forced me to hold myself to that standard.
I got a B in his class. I’m still mortified to this day. I was less upset about the grade than I was about disappointing him.
But Damon did not just positively affect one class of one semester. Through him, I scored an internship in which I discovered I could be passionate about my major and what it allows me to do. I was so burnt out and broken down I hadn’t considered I might actually like being an industrial engineer—and all of a sudden, I was discovering a passion I thought I would never find. Without that internship, without Damon, I would not be where I am today.
When I heard that Damon had become a pastor, I was not surprised.
He is everything a pastor should be: passionate, thoughtful, observant, and open-minded. He speaks with intention and listens patiently. I am certain he will have great impact on this world, because I know he has already positively impacted me.