Jason found a seat in the auditorium next to Carter Maguire. They were two of the only thirty students present. Considering Ploford College accepted over two thousand freshmen every year, Jason felt a surge of anger passed through him. The man worked here for decades. Surely there should be more mourners. “Thanks for coming along.”
Carter nodded but made no other reply. Of Jason’s friends, he was the only one whose first reaction to Dr. Vellion’s death had been sober. Rather than commenting on how Jason would have one fewer class to worry about now, Carter had asked how he could help. They say a crisis is the best way to judge a person’s character.
On stage, a short, balding man stepped up to the podium. Unlike Dr. Vellion, this man appeared far from frail, having the physique of a boxer. He even had a scar over his left eye that could have been an old battle wound. Contrary to the man’s imposing stature, he spoke in a soothing tone. “Good evening. For those who do not know me, I’m Dr. Rovain, economics professor at – well that’s not what’s important here. We were colleagues, Dr. Vellion and I. Colleagues and friends. So I wanted to thank you all for coming tonight. And I’m sure that Conrad’s daughter, Lilly, shares that sentiment.”
Dr. Rovain gestured to a woman in her thirties seated off to stage left. She raised a tissue to her nose and nodded.
“Dr. Vellion was a very particular man. One of my first memories of him – we were at a staff mixer before freshmen orientation several years ago. And no one was mingling with anyone outside their departments. I guess that’s a pretty easy habit to fall into. Well, Conrad stood up and recited the definition of the word ‘mixer’ as it is found in the Webster dictionary. He may have even known the language of origin. But he didn’t stop there. No, Conrad always had a purpose behind his every word. He spoke to us about the benefits of mixing in with people of different experiences. How history looks favorably on the practice. And then he pulled out a spinner and had us all playing Twister. Think of that. He coerced us serious-minded academics into an old children’s game to literally mix us up together.”
The small crowd chuckled at the image. Given Dr. Vellion’s typical curmudgeon’s mood, Jason had difficulty imagining his 73-year-old professor in that scenario.
“To Conrad, history was not just a subject to teach. He scoured our world for meaningful patterns and stories. Meaningful not for twelve-page papers for students to half-research. Rather, meaningful for students’ lives beyond their college years. I can only hope that Dr. Vellion’s students appreciated him to the utmost. He was brilliant. Aggravating to a fault. One of the best friends I’ve ever—” Dr. Rovain’s voice cracked. “Ploford College will miss him.”
The chamber echoed with the sound of the economics professor’s retreating footsteps. Someone several rows behind Jason coughed. After half a minute of silence, Lilly stepped up to the microphone. “This all comes as such a shock to me I—” She looked down at a sheet in front of her. The paper shook in her hand. “I don’t have the words for this. My dad – wasn’t the same after my mom – well, she’s another story. I think I should open the floor to anyone who wants to share their memories of my father.”
Jason edged forward on his seat. What would I even say? I knew him for maybe three weeks. That’s it. And my biggest interaction with him ended with me punching a wall after he called me a coward. What am I supposed to do with that? I can’t repeat that story in front of the college’s entire faculty. That would be ludicrous. Not understanding his own motivations, Jason stood from his seat and walked to line up by the stairs.
Three of Dr. Vellion’s fellow history professors gave speeches about how honored they were to have worked with the deceased. Jason thought they sounded sincere, but the words all rang with an atmosphere of obligation. Next came Jason’s turn. He lowered the microphone to his level. His first attempt to speak resulted in a feedback loop that prompted the audience to cover their ears.
“I’m Jason Ramos. I first met Dr. Vellion a few weeks ago when classes began. I don’t have much to say about him except – well, he was the first professor here who took a real interest in who I was. He challenged me. Made me want to become a better version of – I wish I had a chance to know him better. This place just won’t be the same without him.”
Upon returning to his seat, Jason felt his friend pat him on the shoulder. As yet another professor delivered a clinical assessment of Ploford College’s loss, Jason turned to Carter and asked if he had made a fool of himself. Carter shook his head.