Michael K. Shaub, December 17th, 2015
She is up before dark for a two-hour workout, and she knows that a workout at least as long waits for her in the afternoon. And yet, for the last 15 weeks, Meredith Oliver has faithfully attended and engaged in my Auditing class while her body recovered from one workout and braced itself for the next. She never asked for special treatment or made excuses. Perhaps some days were more of a grind than others in the classroom. But if grinding is what is necessary, Meredith Oliver is ready to do it, because she is not just an accounting student. She is also a swimmer.
Twitter started blowing up yesterday with speculation about a second quarterback leaving our football program at Texas A&M, leading to the inevitable statements of despair, loathing, and frothing at the mouth over coaches, game plans, and loyalty. Meanwhile, I was sitting quietly in my office discussing upcoming internships with two scholarship athletes who have distinguished themselves in their time here, and who have excelled in my classroom at Mays Business School this fall.
One of those, Conner McQueen, is a quarterback as well. He is also the holder for placekicker Taylor Bertolet, who was recently named second team All-SEC, and I am confident that Bertolet knows that his success is in no small part due to the consistency of his holder’s performance. But you are not going to hear that out of Conner McQueen. He is self-deprecating in the best sense of the word. The grandson of one of the greatest Texas high school football coaches, he is more concerned about being prepared to succeed in his accounting firm than he is with winning awards. You can tell by watching him on the field how much he loves his teammates, the experience of playing college football, and wearing maroon and white. He was recently named to the SEC Football Community Service team and was nominated this fall for college football’s Wuerffel Trophy for community service.
The other student-athlete sitting in my office was volleyball player Shelby Sullivan, captain of this year’s SEC champions. Watching her on the court with her animated support of teammates is inspiring. I sat at a match where a teammate was removed unexpectedly, much to her chagrin, and her disappointment led to an animated, whispered conversation with another player while waiting to re-enter. I am not a volleyball aficionado, so I watched to see if that behavior was typical. In fact, I watched Shelby, because she was rotated out regularly, even though she was the team MVP last year and was an all-SEC player this year. She left each time with a smile and a high five for her replacement, already intent on how she was going to get those on the bench more excited in their support of the team. It is no surprise that in addition to being last year’s SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year, she was one of 10 national finalists for college volleyball’s Senior CLASS Award this year, given for excellence in community service, classroom performance, character and competition.
All three of these students are top-flight academically, even while they are running a second parallel life in the athletic arena at a big-time sports school. I have the privilege of preparing them for a role in the accounting profession, though any of the three could be successful in a variety of ventures, from coaching to entrepreneurship. Their paths to success are largely the result of incredible work ethics attached to their inherent giftedness, and the habits they have developed will almost certainly lead to significant achievements. All of them are also very grounded; none of them seems driven by the need for adulation or the attention of others.
I am a season ticket holder for A&M football games, and I have only witnessed one 10-win season in my 10 years here. I ask myself the same questions that every other fan does about where we are as a football program and where we are headed.
But I don’t ask that question about Texas A&M as a university, because I have an advantage that very few Aggies have. I get to spend my life investing in students who work long hours at jobs to support themselves, who serve extensively in our community, who lead organizations, who quietly enrich the lives of others without asking for anything in return. I get to talk to them about the auditing profession, and life, and where they come from, and their hopes and dreams.
As I finish another semester as a professor, I am reminded that it is a gift to be here, to be alive in this place, to teach. I have been given a sacred trust, the hearts and minds of young people anxious to learn, to be better, to build a life worth living. Students like Meredith, Conner and Shelby will leave this place and make their communities, their families, and their workplace different, and richer.
So, just in case you were worried about us here, please don’t. All is well in Aggieland.