Almost everyone has a “this teacher changed my life” story. Usually it’s a high school teacher who provided a nurturing environment during a particularly challenging year in school. I have a few of those stories myself, but one educator stands out the most. It was a philosophy professor I never took a class from, and I only met him one time for about five minutes. But that brief encounter has stuck with me for well over a decade. In only a few words, he changed my life and gave me an insight into how easy it is to be a better person.
In my last year of college, I had just signed up for my final quarter of classes. My schedule hadn’t worked out quite as planned. The way the classes were offered, I was going to graduate one credit shy of a minor if philosophy, and there was nothing I could do to get that final credit. Since one lousy credit seemed like a fairly arbitrary discrepancy, I figured it might be possible for an exception to be made.
Up to that moment, I had avoided dealing with college administrators at all costs. In my experience, they never failed to make life harder rather than easier. Even when they were helpful, they made a point of making you feel bad about not having the correct paper work, not filling the paperwork out correctly, or not showing up to the right office at the right time. But in this case, going a little bit out of my way to take on the administrators seemed worth the trouble. I’d worked hard in all my philosophy classes, and I wanted something to show for it — even if it was a trivial minor degree.
As it turned out, there was a process for someone in my situation. After gathering up all the required paperwork, the only thing that stood in my way was a signature from the dean of the philosophy department.
I’d never met the dean before and was a little shocked by how relatively young and non-threatening he seemed. Taking a seat in his office, I was immediately put at east by his calm demeanor. Still, as I explained my situation to him, I didn’t have much hope for a positive outcome. I was waiting for the inevitable pushback, when I’d have to jump into combative mode and argue my case.
But the pushback never came. He asked me a few basic questions about the classes I’d taken and generally about my experience with the…