Cycle of learning continues

Editor’s note: This is the final in a series of columns by John Malcolm on his “50 years at Fredonia.” Retired, he is a professor emeritus at Fredonia State.

Public speaking was a favorite class. You usually got a mixture of majors, students from other departments, and if you taught at night community members. This latter group was wonderful in their “mature” comments about the speeches.

There were many funny moments. Like the student who gave a speech on the French Horn when it was his roommate’s. Or the student who decided to read the very article I had on my desk and I was able to read along with him. I even fell asleep in one speech during a warm spring day and was saved by the television recording.

The most memorable speech was one titled: “Happy Valley.” It detailed the agony of the closing of American Locomotive. One older student in that class later took his own life since he was so despondent. Thank goodness for the college being able to absorb, albeit at lower salaries, these skilled workers.

In the end I learned more from these students than they learned from me. In my final lecture in public speaking I used the example of the exposure of the “Wizard of Oz.”

Recall the scene where Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion are ready for their rewards after killing the Wicked Witch. Dorothy’s dog Toto pulls back a curtain and reveals a real person using all kinds of devices to project “wizardry.” This individual saves the day by awarding a medal to the Lion, a ticking watch in the shape of a heart to the Tin Man, and a diploma to the Scarecrow.

I also gave a diploma to my students but all it assured them of was that they had taken a class in public speaking.

In a lot of ways Fredonia is a “Land of Oz.”

Students are cast into a world of education and enlightenment and there are questions. A student is joined by others who also have questions. All of the characters in “The Wizard” have questions and each of these thinks the solution lies with a final answer.

There is a lot of Oz in every college professor and there is also a lot of Dorothy and her friends in every student.

So that’s it so far. My 50th class reunion was in 2010. I also hope to attend as many of these for my former students starting this year. I was only 24 when I faced my first college class. I still get nervous facing a class or an audience but I always told my classes that this was a compliment to them.

I have tried to make this series more than a dry recitation of events. Fredonia is, after all, people. Most I have liked and respected, many are now “crossing the bar.” I hope this has been helpful in understanding Fredonia – from one perspective.

John Malcolm wrote this in January 2007. He is a Fredonia resident.