Many of us offer thank-you gifts to show our gratitude for kindnesses received, but we search for a way to express our appreciation adequately for the truly major gifts. I’m thinking of life-altering lessons learned from a great teacher, spiritual leader, or mentor. We offer perhaps the greatest tribute to such influential people when to try to model our lives after theirs. We try to walk in their footsteps.
So many people helped me immeasurably on my journey, but one stands out. I owe so much to the lessons learned from and the positive influence of the late Barbara Garfunkel, a gentle teacher of journalism and mentor, who helped to launch many a successful newspaper career. Her support and encouragement at difficult times allayed my doubts and discouragement and kept me on the path to a long, happy and productive career in newspaper journalism followed by service on the faculty of a great journalism school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She’s up there smiling, I know.
In my final year of teaching, one of my most dedicated students found a way to show his appreciation for what modest contributions I may have made to his learning. Young Geoffrey Graybeal created a scholarship in my name at the School of Journalism and Media at UNC. While still a student, he persistently solicited pledges from current and former students and friends until he had gained enough to fund the scholarship. Each year, those early pledged contributions and a few new ones keep it afloat.
This week, the mail brought a letter of thanks from a grateful student who won the scholarship this year, the 17th student to benefit from Geoff’s imaginative, thoughtful gift. Even more gratifying, since his student days, Geoff has moved on to earn his Ph.D. and become a journalism teacher and researcher. Today, he is Assistant Professor of Practice in the College of Media and Communication at Texas Tech University. His blog profile also identifies him as a media strategist, researcher, scholar and entrepreneur.
He is all of that and more. In my heart, I know I don’t deserve such a tribute. Few things can be more humbling than this great gift that will continue to give.