The passing of a mentor.

The passing of a mentor.

Con­tent note: men­tion of sui­ci­dal ideations.

One of my favourite art teach­ers of all time died yes­ter­day evening after bat­tling can­cer for just over a year. I was for­tu­nate to be able to com­mu­ni­cate the fol­low­ing to him before he died, but I want­ed to share with every­one else as a trib­ute to him.

Here’s to you, Mike Slat­tery, enthu­si­as­tic artist, kind-heart­ed soul, best of men.

The first time I met you was the day after East­er in 2008. I wasn’t a stu­dent at BJU yet. My par­ents and I had come down to vis­it our best friends and to vis­it the University—I’d been accept­ed at that point. We were allowed to sit in a cou­ple of class­es, but the only one we end­ed up going to was your art his­to­ry class. I remem­ber think­ing at the time that I was near­ly uncon­trol­lably excit­ed to take that class, to final­ly have more than an “Art Appre­ci­a­tion 101” under­stand­ing of art his­to­ry, par­tic­u­lar­ly learn­ing under some­one who so clear­ly adored the sub­ject he taught.

By the time I got to BJU that fall, I was severe­ly depressed. Sui­ci­dal, even. It was a strug­gle for me to get through every day, and my grades suf­fered dras­ti­cal­ly as a result. I’d grad­u­at­ed with high hon­ors with my AAS in graph­ic design along with a web/multimedia design cer­tifi­cate, a 3.6 GPA, being a stu­dent mem­ber of my college’s graph­ic design advi­so­ry com­mit­tee, hav­ing almost a year of expe­ri­ence in my field. Need­less to say, I was used to aca­d­e­m­ic excel­lence. But I was drown­ing at BJU—not because the course­work was too hard, but because life itself was too hard.

But your class was always a reprieve, a joy to sit through. I was so glad that I had it three times a week. For 50 min­utes on those days, I could breathe. I could see the tini­est bit of hope for change out­side of my suf­fo­cat­ing depres­sion, for life to have mean­ing again. I remem­ber ear­ly in the semes­ter, watch­ing the video about Maya Lin and the Viet­nam War Memo­r­i­al, and you let me bor­row it after class so I could fin­ish it in my dorm. That meant a lot to me.

That semes­ter end­ed bad­ly, grade-wise. I had nev­er been so humil­i­at­ed. For per­spec­tive, I cried the first (and only) time I got a C at my com­mu­ni­ty college—and that semes­ter at BJU, a C was my high­est grade. I was despon­dent, begin­ning to think that my ambi­tion to be a design­er and artist was point­less.

We spent a class peri­od try­ing to decide the man’s coun­try of ori­gin. We decid­ed he was Ital­ian, so I dubbed the piece The Ital­ian Man. Despite it being unfin­ished, Mr. Slat­tery gave it high praise.

When I came back for my sec­ond semes­ter, I had you for a draw­ing class. Draw­ing has always been amaz­ing ther­a­py for me—I can lose myself when con­cen­trat­ing on Bris­tol board with graphite in hand. And your class was so fun. It was almost like you were tak­ing the class with us, like you viewed us all as respectable artists in our own right. Which, of course, you did. When we moved from draw­ing the cast mod­el heads to draw­ing each oth­er, you’d sit in with each group and draw and be drawn, and it wasn’t intim­i­dat­ing in any way. You’d twist your amaz­ing eye­brows into unique shapes to make us laugh and to chal­lenge us in our draw­ing. We laughed, we drew, we cri­tiqued, though it didn’t even feel like cri­tique so much as, “Hey, this is great! Wan­na know how you can make it even bet­ter?!” Your enthu­si­asm was con­ta­gious, and once again, I felt tremen­dous hope.

I end­ed up leav­ing ear­ly in that semes­ter, right after turn­ing in my first project to you to be grad­ed. I went to pick up my piece, and as you hand­ed it to me you held my gaze for a moment and said, “This is excel­lent. I was going to give you an A. You do won­der­ful work. Keep it up.” That car­ried me through a real­ly rough time in my life, and was part of what helped con­vince me to keep apply­ing for design jobs when I got back home. I’m hap­py to say that I’ve been work­ing as a design­er since April of 2009, and am now a senior graph­ic design­er with a rep­utable firm here in my home­town.

Your kind­ness, enthu­si­asm, and love for your stu­dents and your field were so con­ta­gious. You are loved by many, and I know I am not the only per­son to be so touched by your life and thank­ful for you.

If you would like to help the Slat­tery fam­i­ly, please con­sid­er donat­ing. Between the cost of Mr. Slattery’s med­ical care for the past 15 months and now the costs that pile up in the wake of death, it would be such a bless­ing to them to have some of that wor­ry tak­en away.

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