Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"To Know Every Student by Name and Story"

Today, Dean McLeod of Washington University passed away. The newsletter can be found here; Chancellor Wrighton's letter only begins to do justice to the man who easily had the greatest impact over everyone who stepped foot on to that campus.

As news spread, the reaction was truly incredible. Social media tributes and messages of grief and sadness abounded almost immediately; every single person could easily share a story about how the man took time out of his day to connect to them on some level.

Dean McLeod's mantra was to know every student by name and story. It is easy to say that he tried to. During his speech to first year students my freshman year, he gave out his cell phone number to the crowd, offering each of us to call him if they needed advice, a home cooked meal, or simply wanted to go see a movie. I had that number saved until recently, but never had the courage to actually call it (although, I am curious how many drunk dials he got from students).

Despite my lack of truly personal experience with the Dean, he would always stop to say hello as he passed, and the impact he had was clearly visible. Most students idolize Chancellor Wrighton, who over time has become a legend and a character on campus. But with Dean McLeod it was something different- a personal connection, rather than a feeling of awe-struck celebrity. He embodied the Wash U feeling of community, and campus will truly be emptier because of his passing.

In his speech to my graduating class, four years after he gave us his cell phone number, Dean McLeod asked us each a favor. Unlike the others who spoke and implored us to donate to our alma mater (all in due time, Wustl, I need an income first...) he asked us simply to email him on our birthdays, to give an update on our past year, and just to say hello. I emailed him that summer, and while I failed to do it again, I have thought about it each birthday since.

Simply put, that was who the Dean was. He wanted to keep hearing from you, and he responded to each email he got, truly appreciating that you had shared with him.

May we all go on to have as positive and extensive a career, and more importantly, life, as Dean James McLeod. He will be missed.