Most people on this campus do not know that Malthus Hall exists. Unless you are a student of the economics department, it is unlikely that you can identify the dilapidated-looking building behind the Green Apartments. That oddly shaded, green-colored building is home to a department of three professors and fewer than 100 students, a fraction of the size of a graduating class in departments such as business, biology or education. We may be a small department, but right now we are feeling a great loss that is impacting every student.
Chances are that unless you are an economics major or minor, “Principles” student or friend of one of the aforementioned categories, you did not know that Linfield College employs a professor who is a naval reserve officer. You may not know that as of the printing of this column, Eric Schuck will no longer be on campus: He has been called to duty in the middle of the semester. You will not understand how each of the seniors gave an oral defense of their major nearly two months early and have attended their final class with him in the middle of April when graduation is not until the end of May. Unless you are in one of the categories mentioned above, you will not be able to comprehend the lengths to which Eric has gone to make sure that every single student under his care (and that is, by virtue of his excellence as an educator, any given student who has ever enrolled in one of his classes) has been shielded from as much impact from his deployment orders as possible. You will not understand what it means to say goodbye to your mentor on April 14 when graduation day is not until May 30.
It is a sad, galling fact to me that the campus as a whole will not realize that one of our own, someone who on a daily basis contributes more to his students and this institution than others can deign to in a year, is now serving his duty to our country. I am frustrated that the loss I so personally feel is not shared by more people on this campus. I realize that I am an outlier, that it is not typical for a student to, through a combination of class and habit, have daily interaction with his or her adviser. But the magnitude of loss is irrelevant when the knowledge that the campus as a whole should be feeling loss is absent. Linfield as a whole does not know that one of the best professors it has to offer will not be here next fall, and this campus as a whole did not recognize the fact that Eric Schuck has left in the middle of this spring. This campus as a whole failed to recognize the excellence in its midst when he was here and will only come to realize how much he did because now he is gone.
His final words to our senior seminar class were, “May you always have fair winds and following seas,” and, “Godspeed.”
The first is used as a naval blessing or farewell, something that is understood between sailors as a well wishing of safety and good fortune. Here, it was a heartfelt wish that the graduating seniors, who are most definitely entering a tumultuous economy that none of them foresaw when they were freshman filling out their four-year plans, have nothing but the best of luck in all that they seek to accomplish in the near or far term. To be a student of Eric’s means to be one of his children, and he is personally invested in helping his children succeed during both their time at Linfield and in the years following their graduation.
The final word, “Godspeed,” is often used as a farewell, a definitive parting that expresses a wish for the recipient to experience a prosperous journey. In the naval world, it also carries connotations of safety, an acknowledgement that a tour of duty is being embarked upon but with an earnest desire for every sailor to return to port in good health. His final word to our senior seminar class was a far-term well wishing that our journey in life be prosperous, but is one that in the very near term every single student wished for him as he transitions from being our professor to being an officer who is being deployed in a time of war.
Eric is a forward deploying officer, meaning that the nature of his job is such that he is the first one deployed and the last one to return home. His is a job that is characterized by people not noticing when he does it right, only when things go wrong or when he is absent. Ironically, that is exactly the same function of his position on this campus. Neither the students nor the faculty will come to understand how big of a role Eric Schuck plays in making their lives better and how much of a credit to this institution he really is until he is no longer able to participate in the day-to-day functions of Linfield College. And that will be the day that this is printed, because on April 16 he will have fully transitioned from being Eric Schuck, Linfield associate professor of economics, to being Lt. Eric Schuck, Supply Corps, United States Naval Reserve Logistics Officer, Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron Nine. This will occur without ceremony by either the U.S. Navy or even in general acknowledgement on this campus.
So thank you, Eric, for all of the things that you do. For all the things that go unrecognized and will be realized now that you are gone. Thank you for being my mentor, for caring about me not just as a student, but as one of your kids. Thank you for choosing a life of service, both to education and to our country. Please know that the moment at graduation when we are asked to walk past the faculty for the final review will be incomplete. Because you will not be there. But in that moment, I will be thinking of you with a heart full of gratitude.