“Why I have chosen to stay at Gonzaga these past four decades...”

William P. “Rick” Cannon, English Teacher

William CannonWhy I have chosen to stay at Gonzaga these past four decades-through the providence of three Presidents and seven Headmasters and through a few turnovers of faculty-is simple: Gonzaga pulls the best from me.

For starters, our clientele is so bright. These boys, being boys, are unimpressed with reputation. No rest. Thank goodness! Every day we'd better ‘bring it.' This freshens the pot, demands currency and constant refinement of method and material; it is a continual challenge, and I love it. I love, too, the privilege and responsibility of encountering these young men at such a critical point. They will lead their worlds; to work with them on this ‘ground floor' is a daily gift for which I'm daily grateful.

The intellectual and spiritual community at Gonzaga is another of its wonderful facets. Here I labor among fine people, men and women who know their disciplines but, more important, understand the breadth of the task and dedicate themselves to teach, through data, experiment, theme, and immersion, real world goodness and hard-nosed values. The school calendar is peppered with masses, experiences with the needy, and retreats. Driving in every day, it's not as if I'm ‘coming in to work'; as Jesuit numbers dwindle, we in the lay community carry to the boys a larger share of the Ignatian genius. What a joy it is to be a part of such a grand enterprise, to be among, to be inspired by, such colleagues.

Only in hindsight—and only for me—do I understand one dynamic of Jesuit supervision. Despite the military feel of the Order itself, it is not ‘top-down' but ‘inside-out.' I was delighted to begin in 1976, expecting much hands-on direction from Father Eugene Ambrose Nolan, S.J., our English Department Chair. Certainly, he said, ‘teach the curriculum thoroughly, but Language Arts is a broad field—also teach your passion.' That freedom to teach in abundance what I love—poetry and writing—ignited these past four decades and burns yet in the fifth!

While I didn't sense an eye over my shoulder in those early years (I now know of many subtle ways to assess classroom effectiveness), I did note some turnover in the department. Gene was there, would pose or answer an occasional question, might view with a wry sparkle in his eye a sheet I had worked up—but not once did he offer a critique. Soon I understood that it was my deal and I'd better make it work! In effect, Gene's ‘supervision' had made me my harshest critic; finally, I sensed an eye over my shoulder—and it was mine.

Thus, there being no gap between ‘task' and ‘master,' surrounded by adults of the highest caliber, teaching such bright young men in an environment of intellectual freedom and spiritual strength, I was captured by the Gonzaga ‘mystique.' Almost immediately, teaching here was a self-actualizing experience, animated by the great questions, yes, but within an architecture of Jesuit clarity and spiritual rigor. The care and belief invested in me continues to pull out a creativity and thoroughness which otherwise may not have emerged, and like the veterans around me, I transfer that care and belief to my boys.

Here, I have learned three things: Happiness is a sales pitch, duty rules, and a man is most fully a man when he gives to those in need.

So Gonzaga has been for me—one of the finer places on the planet—and so it is.

To learn more, visit www.gonzaga.org/forever.

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