Today I climb for my undergraduate advisor and mentor, Dr. David Ebitz. In addition to being an incredibly insightful professor at Penn State, David also helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and ultimately steered me toward graduate school. Without his guidance, I not only would not have gone to the University of Texas at Austin, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.
Unfortunately, I was beside myself when, during my graduate studies, I found out that David was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. It seemed really cruel to me that someone so brilliant and thoughtful was fighting against a monster within his own mind. His treatment was palliative and all in all, his time left with his family was limited.
As such, I made it my mission to finish my graduate thesis for him. It was my hope that he would be able to take some comfort in knowing how inspirational he had been in my life, and that maybe, he would even be able to read bits and pieces of it. After I submitted my thesis to the Office of Graduate Studies on May 7, 2010, I emailed him the file. He got back to me just a few weeks later with a message I’ll never forget. Some of the concepts in here will probably mean very little to anyone outside of the field I studied, but the following message holds a special place in my heart:
"Date: Thu, 3 Jun 2010 09:07:55
From: DAVID EBITZ
Subject: Re: Lisa’s Graduate Thesis
I’m mortified in taking so long to thank you for your very kind dedication. I was moved—as in tears. :) You’ve done us all proud!
I’m delighted that you pursued a strategy of looking at practice through a theoretical lense—and you picked and applied a good one that makes sense to me. It certainly has not been one of the theories that has informed our practice as museum educators—check out the attached pdf of a survey of theories in art museum education I wrote a couple of years ago. The notion of the liminal does seen especially useful as a way to describe how we construct meaning (aggregate) in the museum.
I liked how you handled your literature review—you know this stuff and introduce the various related ideas/positions in a way that shows we are all talking about the same thing, using different terms, though the pleasure is in these nuanced differences. It was a good read.
I’ve not looked at Meireles’ work—thank you for introducing it to me. It seems especially good for this case study.
All done, the question is indeed figuring “out how one might create a practice of liminality.” This practice would make an interesting contrast to VTS, which becomes more successful in its marketing to the extent that aligns with the purposes and methods of formal education. :) Viva the space in between! And informal learning.
What comes next?
I still have this email—not only archived in my inbox, but also printed out and stowed away in a keepsake trunk. For me, it’s a reminder of how great David was; he had read everything and had taken the time to respond to me. I was so happy to have his input one last time, especially the part, “what comes next?” He was so great at mentoring, and it showed until the very end.
David passed away on December 21, 2010, but I still think of him a lot. I’m thankful that I’m here in Austin, a city I love…and I may have overlooked it without his sage advice. Because of David, I ended up somewhere I’m really, truly happy. As for “what comes next,” the answer over the long run of course is a little complicated, but at the same time, right now, it’s pretty simple:
I’m heading to the top of Kilimanjaro, with David in mind.
Today, I climb for him.