President Lindgren, Provost Johnston, members and representatives of the Garnett
family, trustees, colleagues, distinguished guests, students, family and friends:
It is a great privilege to stand before you this afternoon, and I do so with humility,
respect and a profound sense of awe for the generosity and foresight embodied in
the very nature of this award.
I am honored to be the first recipient of the Dorothy and Muscoe Garnett Professorship
in Mathematics. And I am indeed fortunate to be part of this terrific Randolph-Macon
academic community, and a member of such a talented mathematics faculty that I cannot
help but question my worthiness for this distinction. It is an exciting, if somewhat
daunting prospect, to hold this position. I hope beyond hope that I can fill it
with the honor it deserves.
It feels like only yesterday that I first came to Randolph-Macon. I had been teaching
at Georgetown University in a visiting position. My wife Eve, also a professor,
was pregnant with our first child. She held an endowed chair in mathematics at Trinity
College in Washington, D.C., an excellent position at an inner city college just
blocks from the capital. City life was exciting, but change was in the air. I made
the move to Randolph-Macon in 1993, wearing a beeper in class during my first semester
in case the baby came while I was teaching—an event my students actively prayed
for. What I will never forget is the transformation that took hold during my first
months here. It was an exciting but uncertain time. And as the weeks passed and
the rhythm of the semester beat out time, I fell in love. With my new son, of course,
but also with this college, with this community.
Part of it, of course, was the newness of the circumstances—firstborn child, first
tenure-track job. But it was more than novelty. The quality of this academic community,
the beauty and scale of Ashland itself, my first R-MC football game, the sense of
purpose that was so clearly manifest in faculty, staff and administration—these
had a profound impact on me.
And the students. I was told during my interviews more than once that "this is not
Georgetown." But the students here have been a constant source of inspiration and
satisfaction. I recall distinctly commenting over dinner one night midway through
my first semester that the biggest difference I saw between Randolph-Macon and Georgetown
students was that there was less grade-grubbing here. In short, in her quiet way,
this college impressed me; this is what higher education was supposed to be. This
was the most dedicated faculty I had ever seen and the most talented collection
of teachers by a long shot. All this led to the fortunate circumstance of Eve applying
for and in the end taking a position alongside me at Randolph-Macon. We soon bought
a house in Ashland; we knew we had found our home.
Well, time flies. My son is now playing varsity soccer at Patrick Henry High School.
His coach is a Randolph-Macon alumnus and a former student of mine. My daughter,
born in Ashland, celebrated her 13th birthday this week. And I stand here today
with an even greater sense of awe and respect for this college, for the people it
has touched, and for the deeds and accomplishments it has inspired. Personally,
I have been challenged to do my best work in teaching and research. But that's not
what I want to talk about.
Consider the gift that created this professorship. I have no doubt that Muscoe Garnett,
class of 1930, a man who I never met, would tell a similar tale about the way this
college touched, challenged and inspired him. It is that common experience, attained
across different generations and in different circumstances, that we share. The
Garnetts were able to express their esteem for Randolph-Macon in a manner that is
certain to benefit literally generations of students. Their foresight in contributing
directly to the academic program at the college is significant. It gives me confidence
that the power of this institution to inspire future generations of students, professors,
staff and administrators will remain intact. For this, I offer my sincere thanks
to the Garnetts. Theirs will be a lasting legacy.
And so I gratefully accept the Dorothy and Muscoe Garnett Professorship in Mathematics,
with the understanding that it is mine only in trust, and I do so for all of those
who have been touched, challenged and inspired by Randolph-Macon College. I understand
that in a few years, the time will come to confer this distinction upon another
mathematics faculty member, and I am excited already by that prospect. For I am
most comfortable accepting this award on behalf of the entire mathematics department.
And my colleagues in mathematics have been a continuing source of inspiration for
both me and for our students.
Adrian Rice, our mathematics historian, has two books, dozens of research articles,
and has been invited to give addresses all over the world. He takes a J-term History
of Math class to England every other year. Chiru Bhattacharya recently took a J-term
class to India and is currently teaching a First-Year Experience course with Professor
Doering about mathematics and music. When she's not proving theorems about free
groups, she sings and plays the harmonium. Brian Sutton, who joined us in 2005,
is one of six finalists worldwide for the Leslie Fox Prize for Numerical Analysis
(for his recent discovery of an algorithm that had eluded the research community
for thirty years); he will be traveling to Britain this summer with the other finalists
as an invited speaker at a special symposium where the winner will be announced.
Bill Johnston, our provost, is a mathematician, and on top of his other duties has
recently completed a textbook, coauthored with a colleague, that was used in our
MATH 220 course this fall. David Clark, still in his first year here and less than
a year after receiving his Ph.D., has been accepted into the prestigious Project
NExT professional development program, sponsored by Exxon and the Mathematical Association
of America. I've already mentioned that my wife Eve Torrence is a member of the
mathematics department. She is president-elect of Pi Mu Epsilon, the national mathematics
honor society, a position that has her flying all over the country. Just two years
ago she and Adrian Rice won the MAA's Trevor Evans Award for an article they co-authored
on the mathematics of Lewis Carroll. Colleagues: You are all incredible.
Before closing, I wish to express my gratitude to all those individuals who made
this award possible, and to acknowledge Henry Simpson, an alumnus and friend of
the Garnett family, and Robert VanCott, a nephew of the Garnetts who came from New
York to be here today. I wish to thank President Lindgren and Provost Johnston for
their careful administration of the award. And finally, I wish to thank my family:
my wife, Eve, and children Robert and Alexandra, for all they do every day to inspire
me. Thank you all very much.