“You must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!” – said by the character John Keating from the film “Dead Poets Society”
It is sentimentalized in books and movies all the time, the impact another person, especially a teacher, can have on one’s life. I am sure if we all paused for a moment to think, there would be a short list of human beings, other than family members, who have helped shape the people we are today, hopefully for the better. “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could,” is a quote from Zig Ziglar. This applies directly to my daily life, and the reassurance and freedom I have been given to do my job my way and with the confidence of knowing someone believes in me and supports my decisions even when he doesn’t agree with them. I am able to do my job well for one simple reason; I have the full encouragement of my boss.
In 1998, after the birth of our daughter, I knew I had to do something to better provide for my family and so I quit my full-time warehouse job and began working at the Arlington Museum of Art, Tarrant County College, and teaching night art classes at Eastfield Community College in Mesquite, all concurrently. Two years later I applied for a position at Tyler Junior College and although I interviewed, I did not receive the job. Fortunately, due to continued growth in the TJC art department another full-time position opened up the following year (the imbedded lesson here – persevere). I applied again and was hired by an inspiring professor, artist, person, and the most proactive and effective leader I have ever known; frankly, the world’s best boss.
Art department chairperson Christopher Stewart is leaving Tyler Junior College after over 21 years of dedication and service to the East Texas arts community and managing a department of working professional artists and professors he has formed into a family. Chris is advancing to an opportunity awaiting him in West Texas. I have worked alongside Chris for 15 years feeling like a collaborator in building something great. Something we both believe is important. One of my colleagues still celebrates what his family calls ‘Saint Christopher Day’ – the anniversary of receiving the call from Chris Stewart telling him he had been hired to join us at TJC. Chris Stewart’s leaving is a huge artistic, educational, and creative loss for East Texas. Ouch! There needs to be a way to know you are in the good ol’ days before they are actually gone. Somehow, we will endure.
One of the great things about having Chris Stewart as your boss is he can be intimidating. Even after all this time, he will call me into his office and I immediately think I am in trouble, only to find he wants to share an interesting film trailer or website he feels I might find useful. He is a very tall, brooding, red-headed man capable of riding 50 miles on a bicycle and crushing argumentative students with merely a quick Eastwood-style stare. As another colleague puts it, “Chris Stewart’s patronus (powerful magical guardian) is himself.” He is the precise guy you want in your corner, on your side, protecting your interests, and backing you up, which he does justly, honorably, and faithfully. I am an art professor because Chris Stewart believes I should be one. He gave me a chance when I needed it and allowed me to find my own teaching voice. He permits his faculty to do their job, expects them to do it right, discover their style, and exercises their strengths. Over the last two decades Chris has built the most vibrant and dynamic department on the campus of Tyler Junior College and one of the best art programs in the state of Texas.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him. He is very intelligent and knowledgeable, but can also comfortably discuss current events, films or have casual conversation with faculty and students. His door is literally always open for advising, student arbitration, or a good joke. Chris has an inspiring and outstanding work ethic. Chris is an impressive professor and motivator with a love for art, teaching, and learning. Chris Stewart’s strength is his ability to lead by example. He has very high expectations for himself, our school, our students, and the arts in our region. He has served our community well, and I consider him a great supervisor and an even greater friend. He has guided me through both professional and personal life issues and has been a source of amazing support and understanding for my family.
There has never been a problem Chris hasn’t been able to resolve. He is supportive of department decisions, willing to lend advice, and make fair, prudent judgments when necessary. Chris Stewart has been instrumental in building an energetic and profitable program at Tyler Junior College. The growth of our department has steadily increased, even when overall college enrollment has fluctuated. Our reputation on campus and in the local and state community is strong and respected. If we are credited with getting things done right, Chris Stewart is the reason why; he’s an inspiration for living YOUR best life. The movie “Dead Poets Society” makes references to a Walt Whitman poem, especially when the teacher tells his students that they may call him “O Captain! My Captain!” if they feel daring enough to do so. At the dramatic end of the film, the students show their support to the parting instructor by reciting the phrase while standing on their desks. I’m standing atop my desk right now. Chris, you will be missed. You have made an important impact on many, especially me. Thank you.
Chris Stewart received a BFA degree from Texas Tech University and his MFA degree from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He has accepted the position of Department Chair for the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas.
To see more of Chris’ art visit www.christopher-stewart.com.
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