Holloway Award Acceptance Speech May 2004

I would like to thank the Holloway family for endowing this award and for defining its qualities, but especially for naming it after Jean Holloway. I am sure my reaction is roughly the same as those of past recipients. Any tendencies towards hybris which receiving this award might have activated in me were quickly checked by reading the remarkable biography of Jean Holloway that accompanied Taryn Deaton's official notification of the award.

By my calculation I have 21 years to pass the state bar, after simply reading the law for a year, to learn Russian, to get my real estate license, to learn to fly and then to skydive. Only then will I begin to measure up to her accomplishments. I'll try to do them in that order, because I suspect that if I were to begin with the skydiving or flying I might not get around to the Russian or the state bar exam. I know it took me at least two years longer than Jean Holloway to get my Ph.D., so I am not sanguine.

What comes through in Jean Holloway's biography and in the terms of the award that the Holloways so generously endowed are warmth of spirit, ceaseless intellectual curiosity, mostly for its own sake, modesty, lack of pretension, concern for the real world and a firm belief that the world of the mind is not separate from the real world. Most of all, Jean Holloway seems to have been someone who just did what needed to be done and what her spirit called her to do. These are unfortunately rare qualities these or any days.

I have been influenced in my own life by a small number of great teachers. I'll conclude my brief remarks here by naming them as Herodotus would, as Homer would. Judy Panek, my 7th grade teacher. Fr. John Kleinhenz, my high school geometry and calculus teacher. Frs. Dave Gill and Carl Thayer, my Greek and ancient history teachers at Boston College. Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., my dissertation mentor and the person after whom Carolyn and I named the son who is dearer to us than life itself. Colin Edmonson, Jim McCredie and Eugene Vanderpool at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. And here at the University of Texas at Austin, Douglass Parker and Paul Woodruff, both of whom I have tried to emulate while still being myself. They probably didn't know that and now probably would like to disavow any responsibility for the results.

Teaching, for me, is all about deep passion, Paul calls it reverence—you all should read his book entitled Reverence—and for the Greeks passion, pathos, meant experience and suffering and in compound formations feeling along with or virtually as another person. Therefore, the best teachers are kind, although sometimes kindness can be severe.

Teaching is not rocket science. Cato says about speaking, “Grasp the thing and the words will follow.” Bob Dylan says,”I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it...but I'll know my song well before I start singin'.” The same holds for teaching.

Jim McCredie was personally uncomfortably awkward, Carl Thayer gruff and forbidding. Emmett Bennett was quiet, self-absorbed, unwise in many things of the world, wise in many that matter. Dave Gill was outgoing and polymathically involved. Eugene Vanderpool was aristocratic and generous; Colin Edmonson Greeker than Greek and therefore tragically flawed. John Kleinhenz was always, always there to work on math late afternoons with high school boys. And Judy Panek made each of us 12-yr.-olds feel as if we could still be ourselves and still think and feel freely even as we began placing on the shackles that necessarily accompany growing up.

I still feel their genuine passion for the teaching they were doing. They were all sharing who they were whether it was explaining the entablature of a Greek temple, the greatness of George Grote or Samuel Johnson, a poem of Cavafy, or a geometry theorem I have long since forgotten. Their power had nothing to do with power point, web sites, deconstructing classroom psychological dynamics, unless intuitively, or trying to be other than what they were or in some cases still are. I am as unlike any of them as I am unlike Paul and Douglass, and yet they are all part of me.

And the nicest part of receiving the Holloway is the realization it brings, because it is student-determined, that I might be a small part of a small number of the students I have taught. I have always been grateful to be teaching at this great public University. I am happy that I can share my happiness with so many people who mean so much to me and to this institution. I am honored to receive this award, and will try to be worthy of it in the years ahead.

Tom Palaima

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