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Be a Mentor, It Changes People

October 9, 2006 11:47 AM

I spent some time last week writing a piece to be included in a book honoring a dear friend and mentor. John Rassias is a remarkable professor who invented a method of teaching language that has transformed lives across the globe. He certainly changed mine.

Myth in a Man

An imposing figure
Stepped from the mountain that towered above us
He brought with him
A single light
A flame
A solitary but eternal flame
He offered it without condition
He offered it with grace
And our world was never the same again
And for that he paid a terrible price . . .

John Rassias has touched so many of us so profoundly – so deeply. As professor, mentor and friend, John carried the flame of Prometheus to us every day for generations. From Dartmouth students to African Peace Corp. volunteers to NYPD street cops, his message spoke to the human in all of us. And, people who will never hear the name of Dr. John Rassias owe a debt of gratitude for the thousands of teachers from California to Baltimore to China and every point in between that he trained and unleashed on an unsuspecting world . . .

My tale is a simple one.

When I was a struggling freshman at Dartmouth College, the fates dropped me into French One with Dr. John Rassias. That experience alone would have been a story. Everyone who has ever taken a class with John can tell you hours of stories – the greatest classroom stories of our lives.

But, my story comes later – at the end of the term. John called me into his office after our last class.

I went. That’s what you do when Olympus calls.

John knew that I had filled out paperwork to be a Language Study Abroad student in Arles, France. He also knew that there was no way I had the grade to get me there.

Rassias sat behind his desk, surrounded by the clutter of student memories past and present. He and Ron, my massive offensive lineman drill instructor, were finishing a conversation – likely about me.

When I entered, John stood up, Grabbed Ron and yanked him in for a signature John Rassias bear hug (which we have all stolen in our own lives). Then, he kicked Ron out of the office.

Rassias asked me to shut the door . . .

“Scooter”, he said . . .

Scooter was the nickname he gave me the first day of class. A name that people who knew me from French class still call me today – and only those people. John’s spell is powerful and enduring.

“Scooter”, he said. “You want to go on LSA”.

“Yeah”, I said.

And, today I’m not really sure if I knew that I didn’t have the grade to go. Likely not. I had come from a high school education that did not require much work to keep me at the top of my class. Dartmouth academics had been a bit of a humbling experience.

John just sat there – for a long time.

He looked at me – in me. Maybe through me, I don’t know.

But, somehow he managed to see me – or what I could be.

He didn’t need to see anything else. He didn’t need to know anything else. He didn’t need to hear anything else.

In that moment, I think he knew what he was going to do. And, he never hesitated.

“Scooter, I’m going to give you the grade you need to go to France. Because I believe it is going to change your life . . . .”

And, quite simply, it did. Prometheus handed me the flame and I carried it with me to France -- where I experienced the most challenging academic experience of my life.

But, I’ll be damned, if by the end of that program, I wasn’t speaking French – dreaming in French. And, most of all . . . I learned how to learn.

Two terms later I was an assistant teacher of French One for Dartmouth students.The following year I directed a full length French version of Jean Cocteau’s La Machine Infernale. And, senior year I had the honor of performing along-side Dr. Rassias in a full length version of Diderot’s Le Neveu de Rameau.

I know John understands the influence he had on my education. But, no matter how many times I tell him, I don’t think he can understand the profound impact he has had on my life.

When I look around at the mountains I have climbed (from creating a global sports phenomenon to growing and running a publicly traded company), I know that I could never have gone there without Prometheus’ light within me. I could not be the man I am today with out this great man in my life.

And, I know that I am not alone. There are legions of us.

We all feel like he is ours. Like we own him – and he is, in a special way, only ours. And, that is not easy. This blessed Greek Tower of a man knows better than we will ever understand the price that Prometheus paid. The small minds in big chairs, the clouds of envy and ignorance that brought so much rain. And, the greatest bandit of them all – time . . .

There was never enough time. Never . . .

And, now there is even less . . . .

And, so many people still don’t understand, do they John?

So many people still do not understand . . . .

I love this man, John Rassias, as much as I have ever loved anyone. And, I thought I would never want to change one thing about him.

But, I was so very wrong.

I would that I could curse this Prometheus with immortality. So, that he would be forced to endure that pain for a thousand more generations . . . .

Because when he is gone, there will never be another like him . . .

An imposing figure
Stepped from the mountain that towered above us
He brought with him
A single light
A flame
A solitary but eternal flame
He offered it without condition
He offered it with grace
And our world was never the same again

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