Today, August 14, marks a day of great sadness with the news that John Cawthorne, former Associate Dean of the Lynch School of Education, has passed away. To say that John touched the lives of many students is an understatement. To say that he was good at his job does not do him justice. His achievements on paper – Harvard graduate, professor, Director of Education for the National Urban League, LSOE Associate Dean – do not even begin to describe the full breadth of impact that John had on everyone who knew him.
On the first day of my Family, School, and Society class, John told us that he didn’t go by Dean Cawthorne or Professor. He wanted us to call him John and he wouldn’t respond if we called him anything else. I knew immediately that John wasn’t like most of the professors I had known. He began each class by walking around the circle of desks to greet each student individually and to see how we were doing. In a school with thousands of other students who are all incredibly bright, driven, and talented, John had a special way of making each of us feel important. One-on-one time with John reminded us that we mattered, regardless of grades or other achievements.
It cannot go unsaid that John had a wicked sense of humor. It was truly something you had to hear to believe. Throughout my freshman year, John’s office in Campion 104 was my go-to place on campus when I had free time. Whether it was a busy day during the week or a casual Friday afternoon, John told us stories and made comments that I would never have expected to come out of the mouth of a professor. John’s perfect balance of humor, sensitivity, and understanding is what I believe made him truly unique.
John had a special way of helping students. He didn’t always give his opinion or convince us to do what he believed was best; rather, he asked questions to help guide us towards making the best decisions for ourselves. He was there to listen in times of need, no matter how small or great that need was. He shared his wisdom as a mentor, a father figure, and a friend. He was passionate about igniting change and using education as a means to foster equality. This passion was something that John instilled in every student.
I know that I’m not alone in expressing deep gratitude for the family that John created in Campion 104 and in each of his classes. He has shown me the importance of learning and teaching, of loving and being loved. John has inspired me to make a difference in the lives of others by sharing every bit of myself that I can offer. At the same time, John has helped me to stop taking myself so seriously and to have fun.
One of the messages that John passed along this week was an instruction: “John says to read now.” As John seemed to know so well, reading and learning is what allows us to develop an understanding of things greater than ourselves. It seems to me that John has passed on his role to us now. He devoted his life to understanding and teaching others – now it’s our turn, whether we’re studying to be teachers or not. In his last email to my class, the “Fourteenth Family,” John concluded by saying “I love you all dearly.” It goes without saying that the love that we have for John is just as dear and unconditional. The hearts of those who knew John will forever be full of love and appreciation.