By Ada Zhang
I walk into my Tuesday 8 a.m., unsure of what to expect. “Rhetoric I,” the class is called. An intense name for a freshman BIC course, but then again, I’m not even really sure what the BIC is. My classmates and I avoid eye contact with one another, but when our eyes do happen to meet we are sizing each other up, wondering how smart the other is. And then sheepishly, we look away.
A blonde woman walks in. She’s dressed far more fashionably than I am, and she is alert, a hop in her step. She puts her coffee down on the desk and lets her bag slide off her shoulder. Her voice is soft and gentle. Without even trying, she commands our attention.
“How are you guys?” she asks.
Scattered responses — some say “good,” the pretentious ones say “well” — but she persists. She asks us how we’re settling in, how we’re adjusting. I can’t recall exactly what we talked about for the next hour or so, but I do remember us all leaving in a cheery mood. We felt comfortable. Dr. Walden made us feel comfortable.
As the semester continued, comfort transformed quickly into trust. The shyness faded as the once quiet class became a gurgling stream, overflowing with eager, confident ideas; some insightful, a few rather silly, many of them controversial.
At the end of that first semester in college, we realized we were better writers and speakers. We knew how to define and persuade and avoid logical fallacies. I left Rhetoric I finally understanding what rhetoric is—and how powerful it can be.
I have known Dr. Sarah Walden for four years now. I watched her belly grow big when she was pregnant with her son, Liam. On days when I babysat, I held that precious boy in my arms and wondered when he’d be old enough to understand and appreciate what a strong woman his mother is. When she got a permanent teaching position in the BIC department, I rejoiced.
She is my thesis director now, and it still shocks me, how her soft and gentle voice can expect so much of me. I am scared all the time of disappointing her, which is a good thing, or else my thesis would never get finished.
Great teachers aren’t hard to come by at Baylor. I could write an ode to any one of them. But I write about Dr. Walden today because she’s the one responsible for getting the wheels aturnin’ (or however that old adage goes). Looking back, she did tell me I had potential to be a good writer, but that’s not really what made me switch from Business to Professional Writing. It’s more that she showed me, in that 8 a.m. freshman rhetoric class, how through words I have the ability to create, to destroy, and to change the way things are—for better and for worse.
Dr. Walden encouraged those shy freshmen to wield the power of rhetoric — because, she told us, our ideas matter, because words are free and we are free to use them.
And look at me now! Going on and on and on about my ideas 24/7. It’s like a disease, really. I can’t help it.
Take a moment today — especially you, seniors — to think about the professors at Baylor who have guided you one step closer to where you were always meant to be. Maybe they spent a lot of time with you during office hours; maybe they got you to think outside of your comfort zone; or maybe, they just gave one heck of a good lecture that you’ll never forget. If your professors have made an impact on your life — tell them. The work they’re doing is important, and they deserve to know that.