We all remember. Our anxiety, our shoulders tense and hearts racing, as Dr. Schuetze introduced herself on the first day of class. We froze as she read the syllabus and her exacting rules: All correspondence must be addressed to Doctor Schuetze, no grammatical errors, and no “OMGs.”
OMG, what had we gotten ourselves into?
Then she transformed. She strolled around like she was taking a walk in the park.
“Now let’s share,” she said, inviting us in. “Who is your celebrity crush?”
And we smiled. Like magic, our shoulders relaxed; we settled in our seats. For this class and every class, Dr. Schuetze began with random questions; she went around the room, encouraging all of us to share, listening to our responses, and then asking intense follow–up questions. Everyone, even the shy students, participated. We enjoyed the comradery; we smirked at some of the smart-ass responses. And we laughed—a lot.
Our beloved professor, Dr. Sarah Schuetze, died on January 10, 2021, and, from the shock, remorse, and sadness expressed from the students that knew her, she left an impression on all our hearts that we will gladly carry with us for the rest of our lives. Her warmth, her knowledge, her challenging assignments, and yes, especially her discipline, helped us build a rock-solid academic foundation, handed us a compass that will guide us through the rough patches of any career we choose.
Dr. Schuetze’s academic background was impressive. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky in 2015, her MA from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee in 2007, and her MFA from the University of Michigan in 2002. She also received a National Endowment for the Huminites Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. She published in top-tier journals on early American and nineteenth-century literature, historic diseases, race and racism, embodiment, and material culture.
For students, her credentials have given us goals to reach for, but her degrees and awards are not what we will miss about her; they are not what stirs up our sadness when we remember her. We will remember how she encouraged us to come to her, to ask her any question. She pushed us, challenged us, and forced us to dig deep, to always question our textbooks, professors, peers, and ourselves. When we became discouraged, we could count on her to lift us up. She refused to let us fail.
We will remember how her questions hurt our brain—I am not kidding, our brains throbbed—as we tried to respond to what I can only describe as her “Socratic/Metaphysical/Mind-blowing” questions about Hamlet. We will remember her smile and that she frequently called on that student sitting in the back corner, texting.
We will remember the day she walked into class with a box—just an ordinary cardboard box. No one took notice until, about mid-way through the period, we heard crying. Squeaking? Dr. Schuetze stopped the lecture to introduce us to her adopted baby raccoons: REAL. WARM-BLOODED. MAMMAL. RACCOONS! Our heads tilted. She smiled—that sarcastic smile we all loved about her—and said, “You can all come up and meet them after class but don’t publicize that I brought them; I’m not sure if the college would approve.”
But we approved because, yes, we definitely learned about literary topics in her classes, but we also learned that liberal education, especially literature, is exciting; that when we let down our guard, when we ask thought-provoking questions, and when we challenge our classmates, we learn about ourselves. A priceless gift we can never thank her enough for.
But we will anyhow, with all the respect she asked of us, and more: Doctor Schuetze, we thank you for everything. We will carry your lessons forward.
Please join us on March 21, 2021, at 8:00pm for the Dr. Schuetze Memorial. For more information, click on the following link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfJql_co_TlayLAbEx0rWmzX1DqNV-EBFgPY8rRbpnh1X0c8A/viewform