To the Professor Who Changed My Life
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To the Professor Who Changed My Life

We've all got stories about life-changing teachers and professors. Here's mine.

To the Professor Who Changed My Life

Dr. Alfred Lent poses for a picture taken byThe Postin Athens, OH.

Dear Dr. Lent,

You probably have no idea how much you impacted me during my time on Ohio University’s main campus. And I think that’s one of the best things about you.

Let me explain.

The first time I took one of your Philosophy classes, I was a freshman Theater Performance major. I was convinced that I wanted to spend the rest of my life perfecting the performed experience, facilitating ulterior realities on stage so that people have someplace to go when the realities they live become too hostile. I loved the elation of reading a script for the first time, the rebellion of feeling someone else’s emotions, walking someone else’s gate, the intimacy of speaking someone else’s dialect. I loved the nausea of imperfect presentation, the ecstasy of dancing with the fourth wall.

But then I sat in one of your introductory philosophy classes for the first time and all of that changed.

I remember walking into a fog of nervousness shortly before you arrived. The room was so much larger than my introversion could appreciate. I didn’t recognize anyone so I quickly came to terms with the inevitable and self-inflicted awkwardness of sitting next to someone I didn’t know— because sitting somewhere off in a corner by myself would've just made me look lonely. I found a kind-looking classmate, sat down next to her, and waited to meet my Philosophy professor for the first time.

The way you were when you entered that lecture hall is the way you always were: smiling. You were always smiling, Dr. Lent. And who would’ve known that such a simple gesture would have buried me beneath the gravity of self-discovery so quickly?

Every week, I felt through your smile the incredible joy you experienced as a professor. And I became convinced that was what I wanted for the rest of my career: to walk into my place of work and find it impossible not to smile.

As you began summarizing what to expect for the next 10 weeks of the quarter, you opened up a world for me that transcended paper deadlines, rules against plagiarism, and reading requirements. You opened up your heart to us, Dr. Lent. Though refreshingly interspersed with humor and dialogue, your heart is what you bore before us. You explained that philosophy wasn’t just a career choice but that it was a way of experiencing the world around you. You shared how philosophy made you a better thinker, a better doer, a better be-er with others, how it provided a framework within which you could explore some of life’s most important and influential questions.

Your introductory narrative ended with a life-changing punchline. I’d heard many professors begin the first-class spiel with a short biography, continue with a list of ways their passions impact the subject matter and end with how important it was for us to pay attention in class. And as I’d come to expect from all professors, I fully expected you to invite us into a Q&A session about the syllabus or offer some dry, sterile transition directly into your first lecture.

But instead, you ended your spiel by explaining your intent to equip us. You mused about your desire to help us learn how to think rather than just what to think. With an authenticity that we could all hear in your voice, you attested to an unyielding motivation to prepare us with the critical thought we would all need in order to live well but had not been guaranteed to receive.

I hadn’t yet met a professor who cared so genuinely about me and my future. I was sold, Dr. Lent.

My passion for the performed experience was quickly eclipsed by a newfound desire to think well. After all: isn’t all of life a constant swirl of thinking? Shouldn't I be able to think well if I am going to live well?

Just pages into the textbook you’d assigned, I discovered that I desperately wanted to attain what you and so many well-thinkers before me had attained: a free and malleable exploration of truth. The flame of that desire swept through my life until it gently seared every edge of my identity— my creativity, my love languages, my civic duty, my worship.

Your teaching style was effortless and joyful. You wore the same style of white, cotton, button-down shirts and jeans to every class and your PowerPoint presentations were just as concise as the way you accessorized your lecture podium: just a beverage and a pen. I rarely saw you with a bag of any kind— your humor and your own well-studied knowledge were all you needed. We laughed with you, listened to music we’d never heard of with you, discussed questions we knew we’d never be able to answer with you. We dug deeper with you.

We were changed with you.

By now, you’ve probably taught another several hundred, maybe even thousands of students. And there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ve carried with you into class that same pen and that same thermos, undoubtedly wearing those same white shirts and jeans. I could bet money your ponytail still looks the same and that your glasses are still those same awesome, minimalist, black frames.

You were always solid, always unerringly you, Dr. Lent. Always an unassuming, reliable constant.

And because of that, you’ve probably never considered how much you impacted me during my time on Ohio University’s main campus. Granted: you cared for me just like you did all your students. But you seemed to care from a place that was so natural, so instinctive that its consequences were just another pixel in the backdrop for you.

Few people live a life so fruitful from such an honest place.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t graduate from OU with a degree in Theater Performance. I graduated with a degree in Philosophy, Pre-Theology. After taking that first class under you, it just wasn't enough to create the performed experience for others as an actress, screenwriter, or director. There was beauty in performance and the rehearsed rawness of acting, yes, but you taught me that the real beauty is in the raw mechanisms of the mind.

I now help others shape their inner experience in the healthiest ways possible— through therapy, discipleship, and spiritual formation. And I wouldn’t be able to do that as fruitfully as I have without having learned from you how to think well— how to freely and malleably explore truth as experienced by others and expressed by the world around me.

As I shape my own career in full-time ministry and in the mental health field, I realize just how formative my time under your instruction was. The unyielding commitment to critical thought, genuine concern, joy, and authenticity you shared with us every single week molded within me a desire to cultivate those same things in my life.

So, I thank you, Dr. Lent.

Thank you for changing my thinking and my passions.

Thank you for changing my life.


Do you have a story about an influential teacher or professor from your past? I’d love to hear it!

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