– April 26th, 2013 by Anurup Upadhyay –
David Elliott refuses to be boring
“When I came here, I said to myself I really have to be someone else,” remarks David Elliott. “I thought if they find out the funny in me, I will be in big trouble,” Elliott adds as he recalls his first few days at Colby-Sawyer College. He continues, “Before even a week had passed, a faculty member came up to me and said, ‘I heard you are really funny.’”
“You cannot be someone you are not,” he points out.
Now, as Elliott looks forward to his retirement this summer, he can barely hold in his elation as he realizes how the English Language and American Culture (ELAC), which commenced international exchange on campus, has sprouted into the ever-growing International Student Services (ISS), where he serves as the director. The program, as of today, serves more than 150 international students hailing from countries across five different continents. “I always hated the sound of [ELAC]; it sounded like a medical condition,” says Elliott, with an elf-like expression on his radiantly flushed face. “International Student Services incorporates Colby-Sawyer’s endeavors with one of its strategic themes, linking to the world, much better.”
Eclectic representations of world cultures, ranging from a vivid Japanese abstract painting to a shiny golden statue of Ganesh, a Hindu deity, envelope Elliott in his office. Squinting at his low-lying computer screen with blue bifocals on his prominent nose, he cannot help but get teary eyed when he sees a picture from three years back, which shows international students clad in the national attires for that year’s international festival. “I feel so moved when I see everybody all together,” says Elliott. “They are [not only] proud of their own country and what their countries have contributed to the world at Colby-Sawyer and the world at large but also so happy to be with people who feel the same way as they do.” He underlines that he will see one of those pictures as the gist of his cherished experiences at Colby-Sawyer. “It’s a shot of how the world could be.”
Elliott reminisces that there have been many memorable moments during his work at Colby-Sawyer. “However, the most fulfilling ones have been private moments with international students, who come far away from home and might be experiencing something frightening in their lives,” he remarks. “I tried to listen…tried to be honest…did not try to make the students’ sadness go away because it was making me uncomfortable.” Elliott continues, “It was a privilege to listen to the international students and become a part of their lives…and I think being with a person who was not afraid of feelings that we don’t like to feel was helpful to some [of them].”
Cindy Benson, international student advisor at Colby-Sawyer, has worked alongside Elliott for the past ten years. She says she will never forget how Elliott was able to stand in front of 50 international freshmen on the first night of orientation and give the most heartwarming, funny, honest and informative talk totally spontaneously. “He knew exactly how to put them all at ease, get them laughing, praise their courage, yet instill a serious sense of purpose all at the same time,” she says.
“That’s because everything in my life has been personal although it should not be” Elliott admits. Because he is personally attached to the international student body, Elliott seems quite protective of them as well. “There have been times where I was stronger than needed,” he says, as he recalls an incident around five years ago when a bunch of international men promised some international women a ride back home but only gave them a partial ride, stranding them at night. Elliott clearly remembers that he wanted to tell the men involved in the incident to go home and come back only after they had learned to treat people properly. “Although I did not have the authority to do so, I wrote them very strong emails,” he recollects. “I should have had a cooler head.”
An important part of Elliott’s journey at Colby-Sawyer has been teaching students how to write. He started to teach the first-year writing seminar and English as a Second Language (ESL) courses the year he joined the ISS. Following his instincts as a children’s author, which he identifies as his “other” life, he gradually started leaning more toward the creative rather than the mechanical aspect of writing and introduced such courses as Adolescent Literature, Introduction to Memoir, and Introduction to Playwriting. “I really don’t know anything; but I do know a little bit about writing and what it takes to be a writer, even though I wish I were a better one,” Elliott states. “And, sometimes, great things happen in [these] classes.”
Assistant Professor of Humanities Michael Jauchen, Elliott’s academic colleague and close friend, says that Elliott is the person one really hopes comes to one’s party. “When he’s around, it’s electric and fun. He’s got all the best things: spontaneity, irreverence, and musicality.” Jauchen adds, “[These] qualities really impact his teaching in a great way.” He adores Elliott’s honesty in teaching. “When he’s working with writing students, he tells them exactly what he thinks, and his electric disposition helps students understand that his honest appraisals aren’t meant to hurt feelings [but to] make the work better.” Media Studies senior Alex Banat, who had Elliott for Creative Writing, thanks Elliott for helping him “literally open [his] mind” toward the artistic aspect of writing. “Most of the writing that I had done for college before that course was research-based and very mechanical,” Banat points out. “Elliott helped me tap into the creativity that I hadn’t paid much attention to for years; it will help me for the rest of my life.”
As Elliott intends to take a more thoughtful approach toward writing after departing from Colby-Sawyer, he also does not fail to acknowledge what he will miss. “I have gotten so much from my hanging out with international students and teaching,” he emphasizes. “There has been so much human interaction; and I will miss that a lot.” After that, he pauses for quite a while as though he is letting a long train of thought full of memories at Colby-Sawyer complete a nostalgic voyage inside his head. Then, he bounces back.
“65-year olds are usually boring,” Elliott says. “I don’t want to be boring; I am going to lose 30 pounds and learn French.”