On Thursday last week (December 17, 2015), I gave a short statement of accomplishments in honor of Michael Hastings being awarded “The Distinguished Senior” for the College of Engineering, Forestry, and Natural Sciences at Northern Arizona University. I’ve gotten to know Michael quite well over the past couple of years as he was a student in two of my classes (Foundations of Mathematics and Abstract Algebra) and was also one of my undergraduate research students on two different year-long projects. (You can read more about the projects Michael was involved in here and here.) Michael is extremely deserving on this award and I was thrilled to be able to say a few words on his behalf.
Despite knowing for several weeks that I was going to have to stand up and say a few words about Michael in front of parents and faculty at the CEFNS Pre-commencement Ceremony, I put off coming up with what I was going to say until the night before. It wasn’t just procrastination and being busy that caused me to wait so long. I was so freaking nervous about doing it that my defense mechanism was to ignore it as long as possible. To most people, it might seem strange that I was so apprehensive since I spend so much time public speaking via teaching and talks at conferences and workshops. However, things like wedding toasts and short speeches at pre-commencement ceremonies cause me great anxiety.
When I sat down the night before the ceremony to draft what I might say, I spent equal time typing and deleting. After a more than an hour, I pretty much had nothing. For a little while I had some ideas that involved Pokémon, but then decided my “great idea” was probably a bit silly and would likely be lost on most of the audience. I decided to put it off one more day and cram the next day.
Some time in the morning, I stumbled on the blog post titled Good Mathematician vs Great Mathematician on Math with Bad Drawings, which sparked some much needed inspiration. Once I got cranking, the rest flowed pretty easily. (Thanks to Roy St.Laurent for some early feedback.) I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. There’s a bit of an abrupt transition in the middle. I had a longer version (which I didn’t save for some reason) that flowed a bit better, but I needed to keep it around 2 minutes long (and ran out of time to make improvements after nixing a few lines).
Below is what I prepared to say about Michael. I ad libbed a little bit, but for the most part followed the script. My opening is a slight modification of what appeared in Good Mathematician vs Great Mathematician. I’d also like to give a hat tip to Brian Katz as I borrowed from his call for papers for the PRIMUS Special Issue on Teaching Inquiry.
Phew! I’m glad that’s over. But I’m also glad that I had the opportunity to honor Michael.
Mathematics & Teaching
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