That’s all it took to know what I wanted and needed to do for the rest of my life.
His name was Dr. Edward Norbeck ( 1915- 1991)
I was in my first year of university and because my Mom had just finished getting her Masters degree I knew a little secret that most university students have NO idea about.
Visiting Professors. Visiting Lecturers.
Professors and lecturers from around the world use spring and summer sessions to travel and work on research projects, personal projects and collaborations.
Many of these people are the BEST of the BEST in their fields of study. And because (at the time) academics weren’t the highest paid professionals, they would give spring and summer session classes to fund their travels.
In my first year at the University of Alberta (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) I looked at the spring session lineup and found a class – Introduction to Anthropology – being given by the Chairman of Anthropology and Sociology at Rice University, Houston, Texas. Dr. Edward Norbeck was a world authority on the cultures of Japan and Hawaii and on Primitive and Modern Religions.
I signed up for the class and fell in love with Anthropology and Dr. Norbeck within the first hour.
Spring and summer sessions are INTENSIVE. Three hours of lectures a day. Assignments that you would normally have a month to do … due in one week. I was in my element. I thrive on deadlines.
I handed in my first assignment, pretty happy with what I had written. But on the day Dr. Norbeck handed back the marked papers … he didn’t give me MY paper, instead he looked at me and said, would Melanie Rockett please stay a moment after class.
My heart smashed on the floor.
Oh My God.
Oh My God.
Oh My God.
What did I do!
Am I going to be failed before I started? Was I going to be kicked out of class? Every disaster scenario possible flitted through my head.
Half way thorough the class I calmed down and was finally able to pay attention, but it was hard going.
Finally the class came to an end. I waited until all the other students had left before I went to the front of the classroom to meet my END.
Without a word, Dr. Norbeck handed me my paper. On the cover page he had written in HUGE red letters.
He looked at me and said …
“Without a doubt, that is one of the BEST student papers I have ever read.”
Then with the next sentence he changed my life.
“It will be a criminal act if you do not become a writer.”
I sat down instead of collapsing.
This was from one of the top Anthropologists in the word. He had written and published countless professional papers and articles. He had written over a dozen books, many of them studied by tens of thousands of students around the world.
And HE was telling me to become a writer.
I listen to him and did what he told me to.
I became a WRITER.
It is funny, because up until that sentence came out of his mouth I never considered becoming a writer as a profession.
I was a voracious reader. I devoured books like many people inhale chocolate bars.
I consistently got top marks for my writing throughout grade school and high school.
In high school I started typing. editing and writing for money (another story).
BUT it never occurred to me to think of writing as a profession.
From that moment on … I was a WRITER.
All I had to do was figure out what & how.
Years later, I wrote Dr. Norbeck a long letter … reminding him of our short time together and of the words that changed my life. I thanked him. I gave him details of my writing career and of my plans for the future. I thanked him again.
He wrote back.
I still have his letter and will cherish it forever.
A year after his death I got a letter from a family. She told me that my letter floated around his desk for years. He told her that he got lots of thank yous for his help and his contributions, but I was the only person who thanked him for changing their life.
SHE thanked ME for touching HIS life.
I cried for days. I am crying at this very moment.
The lesson I took from this was …
HOW VERY LITTLE it takes
to make positive changes in someone else’s life.
Just a FEW words.
If you are a teacher or influencer of any kind … sow seed of encouragement carefully. You have the privileged opportunity to change lives on a daily basis!
No, NOT the “you can do anything” motherhood and apple pie type of statements that could be applied to anyone! Be specific, be definite. Ask questions. Point out possibilities and directions.
Thank you Dr. Norbeck.
I am so grateful that YOU came into MY life.
PS. Part way thought the class we learned that Dr. Norbeck had been born and raised in Northern Saskatchewan and that he came to Edmonton (once province over) to do some fishing. He spent weekdays teaching and doing research and weekends exploring northern lakes and fishing. LOL One Monday, just before our final exam, he came into the classroom with a stack of plastic bags and a huge ice chest filled with fish fillets and told us to take our pick from his weekend bounty!
I’d love to hear from you. What one sentence or encouragement changed YOUR life?