Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Teacher Who (Teaches) Me Everything

It was my freshman year of college, and it’s a pretty safe bet to say that I was excited but scared out of my mind. One of my first friends in college was a couple years older than me, and she was a music therapy major.  On Mondays, she led a music therapy session, and she offered for me to be a student assistant in the session. While I was looking for ways to become involved on campus, I was excited to be involved and serving adults with developmental disabilities in this way.  My friend was and is very gifted in her profession, and she was very well-liked among the faculty of the department. Our session met in a classroom that is used as a meeting space for classes, student groups, and many other endeavors. 

One day, about two months into my freshman year, one of the music therapy professors walked into the room to prepare for a class. My friend made small talk, and eventually came to introduce me to this amazing professor, pictured above at right.

After getting to know Dr. Keith over the next few months, attending a concert he conducted, and understanding that we had more in common than most people, I knew that it would be a friendship and a mentorship that would last forever. It was soon discovered that he had longtime connections with a family member, and I felt more comfortable around him than around most people at that stage in life. 

The first portion of my college experience wasn’t exactly sunshine and roses, and there were many rough patches that are difficult to re-tell, to this day.  One of the three or four things that remained constant, however, was Dr. Keith and his unwavering support. There were times where I would walk into his office, even unsure of what was coming out of my own mouth. Dr. Keith simply listened, and he began to teach me valuable lessons for which I’ll be forever grateful.  There was a time in which i had decided to declare a music therapy major, and after many, many sessions of tears and frustration over guitar playing with Dr. Keith, it was decided, and heartbreaking, that it just wasn’t feasible. 

Later that month, Dr. Keith taught me a skill that I’ve used every single day since: how to advocate and educate in front of a group of people. In one of the courses that he teaches, he explores different categories of impairment and various interventions that may be effective in the music therapy setting. Each year, from 2009-2013, I went and told my story to his students. Dr. Keith, in this small way, allowed me to see that my story was important to him and to others, and he gave me an avenue that was informative but familiar.  For the last several years, if you were a student in Dr. Keith’s Principles with Children course, bringing a clean sock to class wasn’t out of the ordinary. 

After a couple years, it came time for me to be able to take Dr. Keith’s courses as electives.  I was overjoyed to be sitting in one of my favorite courses, Psychology of Music, with the man who’d already taught me more than I can ever quantify. It was special. If I was having a bad day, I didn’t have to say anything  for him to know that something was just “off”. It was more important to me to attend his classes out of respect for his teaching and for his knowledge than I ever may be able to adequately express. We would engage in some of the most intellectually stimulating conversation to which I have ever been exposed, and Dr. Keith and I had a special connection.

I knew several things, from a personal perspective, that connected us both at the heart and at the head. I have, and will never have, a teacher who has taught me just as much a about life outside the classroom as the academic content inside the classroom, as Dr. Keith has.  We have shared many laughs, many tears, and many frustrations, and I will forever be grateful for his willingness and for his mentorship. Everyone should have a Doug Keith in their lives. 

When it came time for me to choose an escort for graduation, it was a no-brainer. Dr. Keith, the professor who has fostered my love for music therapy, my love for research, and my genuine love for people, was the perfect person, without a doubt. I’m so grateful to he and “his” Joe for what they mean to me and all that they’ve done.  The neat thing is that just because I’m moving to Kentucky doesn’t mean we’re not there for each other. That simple fact means more than I could quantify!

Thanks a million, Dr. Keith, and just in case you’re wondering, I ain’t lyin’!

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