Over 20 years a professor and a student offer gifts of belonging.
As a BYU freshman in 1991, I walked into a large auditorium with some 300 students for my intro to humanities class. Our teacher, Professor Donald R. Marshall (BA ’60, MA ’65), was full of enthusiasm. A significant speech impediment couldn’t restrain his passion for the arts.
At the close of that first class, Professor Marshall asked if 10 or 15 of us would stay behind. Curious, I decided to stick around. He pulled out a giant camcorder and started interviewing each of us, asking us to share our name and a few interests.
By the end of the semester, Professor Marshall had learned the name of nearly every student in that class—and in two more classes the same size! I was not only impressed that he could memorize that many names but inspired that he cared enough for me and the other students to do it.
My friend Daryl was in the same class, but he didn’t care much for the humanities, and his attendance became sporadic as the semester wore on. Then one day Daryl sat down beside me at the Morris Center cafeteria. “You are never going to guess who just knocked on my dorm room door,” he exclaimed. “Professor Marshall! He asked me what he could do to make his lectures more exciting so that I would want to attend.”
As the years have gone by, anytime I teach a Sunday School lesson about the parable of the lost sheep, I think about Professor Marshall knowing his students by name and going to find the ones who were lost.
One night about 20 years after being in that class, I couldn’t sleep. I had been thinking about Professor Marshall and had even written down my memories of him. But I kept wondering, “What if Professor Marshall never knows what an impact he had on my life?”
The next morning, I found his phone number online and called him. “Professor Marshall,” I said, “I was one of your students a long time ago. I just wanted to call and tell you how much I love you and why you are so important to me.”
As we talked he said that he couldn’t remember knocking on Daryl’s door but that he did work hard to learn names. Then he added, “I am so glad that you called me today. For the past two weeks, I have been feeling depressed and that I am forgotten. When I go up on the BYU campus, nobody knows my name anymore.” Over 40 years he had learned more than 25,000 names, and now nobody seemed to know his. “I have felt so very forgotten and alone,” he said. “Heavenly Father sent you to remind me that I am loved and remembered.”
I am so grateful that I felt inspired that morning, during Professor Marshall’s time of mental and emotional anguish, to give him back the gift of being remembered. I may not remember much about the humanities from his class, but I’ll never forget the lessons he taught by his Christlike example. I’ll remember Don Marshall’s name forever.
Note: Don Marshall, longtime humanities professor and director of BYU’s International Cinema program, passed away at age 87 on Oct. 25, 2022.
Lisa Chidester, an assistant manager at Sherwin-Williams, lives in Olive Branch, Mississippi.