I just received an email letting me know that a professor at my law school, Anne Dupre, died early this morning. She had been battling cancer for many months, and I'd found out about it from another instructor back in January.
My sister and I had made the drive to Athens during one of my visits home, and I was excited to stop by the law school when classes were in session. We poked our heads into the courtroom where the moot court and mock trial teams practice, and my old moot court coach was working with one of her current teams. After we caught up for a bit, I told her that I wanted to make sure to stop by to see Professor Dupre; did she know whether she was around today?
Haven't you heard?, my coach asked, knowing that Professor Dupre had been my favorite, and she went on to tell me what she knew about the diagnosis, the surgery that revealed the massive extent of the cancer, the aggressive chemo. I determined that I should write her a note, and I stopped by her secretary's office to get the address.
* * * * *
Professor Dupre had been my contracts professor during my first year, where she regularly scared our newbie-law-student pants off. She was always meticulously prepared, and she expected us to be equal to her careful Socratic questioning. Her class, though exceedingly difficult, quickly became my favorite, and I wasn't alone in appreciating her care for and her challenge to her students. She knew what we were capable of, and she demanded--and obtained--excellence.
The summer after my first year, she hired me as her research assistant and began pushing me to apply to serve as a federal law clerk after graduation. Although we were confident that my grades would land me a spot somewhere, we weren't sure whether I'd end up at the trial court or the more prestigious appellate court level. But I applied for both, with Professor Dupre as a reference, and when a federal appellate court judge in Florida expressed interest, Professor Dupre made it her mission to get me hired. This judge had never once hired a University of Georgia graduate, but my dear professor spent more than an hour on the phone with her, convincing her that I was worth taking a risk on. (It didn't hurt that Professor Dupre knew personally the quality of a Georgia grad; she herself had graduated first in her class from UGA's law school, had clerked for the court on which this judge sat, and had gone on to clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court.)
Professor Dupre could be exceedingly persuasive, and I got the job, a job that would change my life forever. Nearly any clerk will tell you that her clerkship was the best job she ever had, but mine was especially significant; the man who would become my husband was one of my fellow clerks. There's a toddler sitting next to me who quite literally would not exist but for Professor Dupre's persistence on my behalf.
Professor Dupre wasn't just a scholar who happened to teach classes, although she was certainly a first-rate legal scholar. She was a passionate educator who always put her students first. Her undergraduate background was in education, and she had a passion for issues involving education and the law and children and the law. Her education law seminar was, by far, my most interesting law school class.
Professor Dupre left her mark on hundreds, if not thousands, of students, and I count myself fortunate to be among them. It seems fitting that she died on the feast of Saint Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, because she inspired in her students the same determination to stand for what is right, regardless of the cost.
* * * * *
I never did send that note. Professor Dupre's address sat in my purse for months as a reminder that I should put pen to paper, but I could never bring myself to draft a letter that felt like it would say, Sorry you're dying, but I wanted to let you know how you changed my life.
And so today I'm feeling like a monumental jerk. I should have put my own discomfort aside and let this tremendously influential woman know the extent of her influence on me. And it's too little, too late, but nevertheless:
Professor Dupre, you were an incredible teacher and an inspiring woman. You made me believe in myself, because you believed in me. My life is forever changed because you took a chance on me, and I will always be grateful.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon her. May she rest in peace.