“I have been fortunate enough to have influenced a fairly large amount of students to choose careers designed to make the world a better place, and guess what? They have.”
Jerry Graham lives to make a difference in his students' lives by always encouraging a free exchange of ideas. It is a passion that he acquired as an undergraduate at Wittenberg University.
Like most strong-minded college students searching for a good education, Graham knew that Wittenberg could determine his career path and give him the academic tools needed to succeed in the future.
"I came to Wittenberg with a general sense of wanting to do some sort of public service, as well as have the opportunity to deal with issues of significance and meaning to me," Graham said.
As a student at Wittenberg, Graham became close friends with Robert Hartje, a professor who not only taught him what he needed to know about teaching, but he offered words of encouragement and motivation.
"He was my mentor and inspiration," Graham said. "In my senior year it was his strong desire for me to continue along the path of a career in education which was the deciding factor."
Hartje used his significant influence at his alma mater, Vanderbilt University, to make it possible financially for Graham to begin his graduate work.
"After completing my graduate studies, can you imagine a better compliment and boost to your confidence than to be invited back by Chairman (of the history department) Hartje to teach at Wittenberg?" Graham said. "I was there for four years (1961-1965), and it was quite an honor to become a colleague to several of the very professors whom I had so admired as a student."
Ever since Hartje guided Graham into the teaching profession, he knew he wanted to follow in his mentor's footsteps by passing his own "light" of teaching on to students of his own.
"When you toss in how much I personally enjoy the give and take of ideas and the need to encourage all of us to be more informed of, and involved in, our government, teaching was obviously the best choice for me," Graham said.
There is no better example of a teacher's influence on future generations than Graham's impact on current Ohio Lt. Governor Lee Fisher, a student at Shaker Heights High School who still calls Graham his mentor. Fisher made a presentation titled "Positioning Ohio for the 21st Century: Globalization, New Frontiers and the Future" at Wittenberg on Sept. 24 to kick off an innovative 2008-09 political science department colloquium series titled "Affairs of the State."
Graham was in the audience, and he sat alongside Fisher for an announcement of Wittenberg's newly created Center for Civic and Urban Engagement, which is a pioneering university-community venture.
"If a teacher knows his stuff, likes kids, is genuinely interested in his topic and honestly believes that we can still make a difference in the political system, it's a piece of cake!" Graham said. "I have been fortunate enough to have influenced a fairly large amount of students to choose careers designed to make the world a better place, and guess what? They have."
Written By: Lauren Johnson '09
Photo By: Robert Gantt