I learned of Dr. Shriver’s passing this last week, while at a family vacation home in Lakeside, Ohio. It was fitting because Dr. Shriver also had a home in this small vacation community on Lake Erie. I was quite saddened, but not surprised, as I knew his health was in decline. In Lakeside, I would always walk by his home to see if he was on his front porch. I got the chance to speak to him twice and you always knew he was there if the Miami University flag was flying.
I only took one course from Dr. Shriver. It was a “blow-off” senior year course others told me to take because it was easy and pretty interesting. I only heard the “easy” part. The course was called the “History of Miami.” I had two other friends join me in the class as well. From Dr. Shriver’s first words, he had us hooked. It was shocking really. The teaching assistant would write notes upon notes on every pane of the blackboard before class and we would look on it daunted to think we had to write all of this down. Then Shriver would walk in, stand at the podium, look at the class and begin his story. It was always a story with a beginning, middle and an end. Every class was always entertaining.
I remember an entire classroom in tears when he discussed Miami during World War II. It was interesting on so many levels, but mostly, because of the way he told it. I had had good professors, bad ones and all points in between, but this was on another level. This was a man who was there only to teach and watch students enjoy it.
He opened the first class with a story of Robert Hamilton Bishop, laying the groundwork of the university as its first President – the Ivy, the bricks, the slant walks and him wanting Miami to be the “Yale of the West.” Shriver closed his final class with the words, “And if Robert Hamilton Bishop were alive today, a smile would come to his face as he looked around this great university, for Miami had truly become, the Yale of the West.” With that, my best friend and I stood up and just like out of a cheesy sports movie, we started a slow clap. Somehow, we just felt compelled to do it. The whole class joined in as everyone stood. We got in line to shake his hand and I truly had to hold back tears as I offered my thanks.
We walked out of class and walked back to our house in silence. I had never had this feeling of enlightenment before.
A simple, easy class on the history of our school and here I was moved beyond words. It wasn’t the lessons we learned or the storied history of Miami, it was the passion with which it was taught. This man was teaching this class with the energy and excitement of a first year professor’s assistant. His knowledge was unquestionable, (he never once had to look at that blackboard of notes). But his passion was unmistakable.
I had all the desire and motivation to write a letter to him. I wanted to let him know that after three and a half years of going between being somewhat inspired in my courses to really just trying to get it over with, I was finally moved and more importantly, I learned and I enjoyed it. Of course, I never wrote the letter. I got lazy and settled with my memories of the class. And I always felt ashamed for not letting him know what it did for me.
That was, until about five years ago, in that little vacation haven of Lakeside. I walked by his house, and I saw the flag flying, and I could see this man sitting inside, white hair, balding – unmistakable head. I knew I had to say something. I walked to the porch door, and he was off his chair before I could knock. He and his wife came outside to greet us. “Dr. Shriver, so great to meet you, I wanted to come by and say hi. I’m a Miami University alumnus; all four of my siblings are as a matter of fact. I took your course on Miami my senior year, and I just wanted to let you know … ” I just kept talking, and gushing, blathering and gushing. And he just listened and listened and smiled.
The looks on my wife and family’s faces were priceless, since they had never really seen this side of me or heard this story. Afterward, he offered a simple, deep, gravelly, “Thank you son,” and offered a gentleman’s handshake, with a pat on the shoulder. Maybe I saw his eyes tear up a bit, but that may have been wishful thinking. His wife however, was in tears. She pulled me aside, hugged me and said, “You have no idea how much this means to him.”
I had some idea. It meant the same to me to be able to tell him.
There are very few feelings better in life than being acknowledged for something you are so passionate about.
Dr. Shriver should be an example to all educators, not just for his enthusiasm to teach, but also for the possibility that your students might actually be learning something from you.
Congratulations to Dr. Shriver on an extraordinary career and thank you for creating such a brilliant lesson plan for us all to strive toward.