Professor Wayne Knoll was one of the most joyful, creative, enthusiastic, and engaged professors I had the privilege of working with in college. He passed away in early November, so I want to take a moment to acknowledge him and the imprint he made on my heart and my relationship to learning.
The piece written in memory of Professor Knoll in The Hoya begins, "One word comes up in every conversation about Wayne Knoll: love." Love truly is at the heart (pun intended) of any description of Professor Knoll. He loved learning. He loved his students. He loved life. He loved Georgetown. In no particular order.
Classes taught by Professor Knoll were in such demand that I didn't even secure a spot in his "American Expatriate Writers" class during the initial registration process. I e-mailed him, and he replied I could enroll if I attended the first class. I showed up, printed out e-mail in hand, and he signed my add-drop form. There must have been at least five other students hoping to add in. I felt lucky (and savvy: always e-mail professors directly if you want a spot in their classes!).
Professor Knoll gave students the option of writing ongoing journal entries or three traditional essays. I now understand that the journal option wasn't just an "easier" way to earn an A—it was Professor Knoll's invitation for us to open our hearts and our minds to the literature and poetry, to allow it to penetrate us in a more meaningful way than we had become accustomed in a system of multiple choice tests and essays parroting what we think the teacher wants to hear. I invite you all to volunteer for Professor Knoll's literary journal system: as you read (whether for school or pleasure), take some time to write down your impressions of what you've read—not for a grade, but for yourself.
I remember one occasion when I visited his office hours. I was a classic college senior: keenly aware that my four years as an undergrad were coming to an end and completely at a loss when I tried to imagine what comes next. Having always followed an academic track but with no strong pull towards graduate school, my only option seemed to be to enter the job market, but to do what? To be what? To be whom? "Move somewhere and get a job" hardly focuses one's ambitions. At this meeting, Professor Knoll recommended I read The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra. I had never heard of Chopra before this conversation—it wasn't until later that I realized he is an icon in the New Age/Self Improvement/Spiritual Guidance world. I read the book hungrily. I underlined. It resonated to my bones. I re-read the book more than once after moving to New York—it seemed that whenever I reached a crossroads or a field of possibilities, the book called out to me. And, anytime I read the book, I thought of Professor Knoll. I felt his warmth and compassion reassuring me that it would all work out.
I always recommend taking advantage of office hours as a way to deepen your connection to and learn more from your professors. I wish I had done this with greater frequency with Professor Knoll. I think, at the time, I felt like I had a handle on the material and was doing well in his class, so it was unnecessary. Today, as I reflect back, I feel like there is so much more I could have learned from him had I invested the extra time. I wonder what conversations we might have had. I wish I had e-mailed him more. I wish I had signed up for an extra class (though, to be fair, there are many classes I wish I had taken... four years is far too short a time to get through them all). That's life though. It all goes by so quickly. You and I are only at the beginning. Moments like this, I stop and appreciate the profound impact of people like Professor Knoll and I appreciate the teachers still in my life. Some are teachers by trade, others are friends, others are family members, others are students. I appreciate the opportunity we have to learn, grow, and engage together.
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