Reflections from Emeritus Professor of Religion and Philosophy, Preston Woodruff


“Teaching is the work of an active life,” said the medieval scholar Thomas Aquinas. Hmm. . . like me, Aquinas was built for comfort, not for speed. He was so large his nickname was The Ox. So whatever did he mean by “Teaching is the work of an active life”?

I see two meanings here: the ceaseless activity of the educated mind, and the pleasure of observing the active lives of students before and after they leave Brevard College.

Not that teachers don’t roam the earth. Academic work took me to the Israeli desert for archaeology, Florence for Renaissance science, Oxford for First Century Judaism, and Cairo for Islamic studies. It was a great workout for the mind, but more importantly it was all in support of those 50-minute hours with students in McLarty-Goodson classrooms. That was where the real roaming took place. I brought the expertise, they brought the energy of youth and the curiosity of minds opening up to a big world.

What did I gain from 30-odd years of these encounters? Lots of stories, some immediate, some told to me years later. Here are a few I’ll never forget –

– Sitting back and watching Sharad take over my Jesus seminar with his silver tongue and quick mind. When Sharad talked, everybody listened, including me.

– Spellbinding letters from Heather on a six-month pilgrimage across India and south Asia after college. I’d like to think my World Religions course had a little to do with that.

— Toni’s sudden encounter with a possum on the windshield as she drove behind a semi through a sleet storm on a West Virginia highway, heading home for Christmas break. The woman can tell a story.

– Walking Will over to the library with his senior thesis notes on the Bardo in Tibetan Buddhism, spreading the loose pages out on a long table, and teaching him how to wrestle them into a coherent and illuminating document.

– Jana serenely playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations on piano for her junior recital.

I have dozens more like these, but that will do for now. Today, Toni is a museum curator in New Orleans; Sharad returned to Brevard College as chaplain after grad school; Heather, now ‘India,’ teaches botany at a Seattle high school; Will is a mixologist at some of the finer bars in Brevard; Jana teaches piano in Amsterdam. All are leading active lives after Brevard.

After my first three years at Brevard College, I moved to the University of North Carolina at Asheville. A couple of years later, I came back to Brevard and stayed. No regrets. It was an active life. Many thanks to all you BC students who became lifelong friends. I appreciate you.

Preston Woodruff
Emeritus Professor of Religion and Philosophy
Brevard College