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COMMENTARY: A tribute to Mark Christensen upon his retirement

This spring semester was Mark Christensen’s last semester of teaching at Bemidji State University. He has accomplished so much in his teaching career, and someday, I hope to be as helpful and inspirational to my own students, as he has been to his.

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“You need to be a writing teacher.”

That’s what my English professor, Mark Christensen, said to me one day after I sat down across from him at his neatly organized desk. I didn’t know what on Earth he was talking about.

I had just finished my first year of graduate school and had planned to talk with Dr. Christensen about the writing portfolio of creative nonfiction I had created throughout the semester in his class.

“Reading your work and hearing your comments on your classmate’s work has led me to believe that you need to be teaching asap.”

Admittedly, upon his suggestion, I teared up. I had certainly never thought of myself as someone who could teach a college class, and it was really touching to hear that despite my own insecurities, someone had thought of me that way.

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I don’t know if Dr. Christensen realized that in saying this to me, but on that day, he planted a seed that has been growing ever since.

Sometimes, all a person needs to hear is that someone else thinks they are capable for them to believe it themselves. This is what he did for me, and I will always be grateful.

Because of Dr. Christensen and his inspiring advice, I am now teaching Composition and Argument and Exposition in the English department at Bemidji State while finishing my master’s degree in English.

For those of you who have had the privilege of attending one of Mark Christensen’s writing workshops, you know what I’m referring to.

It’s one of those classes that you wish could go on forever. In a way, it actually does go on, not forever, but continuously all semester long.

Each time our class would meet, it was always a comfortable and relaxing environment, and like two old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while but could always pick up right where they left off, our class would go on in the same manner.

You feel comfortable in a Mark Christensen class, at home and free to be yourself — in the classroom as well as in your writing. When class is finished and it’s time to leave, you really don’t want to. The last hour has been a safe haven from the harsh realities of the world.

After these writing workshops, I always felt better afterward, no matter how I had felt before — kind of like church. Everything was renewed and I would walk out the door feeling strong and ready for the world again.

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I feel so lucky and truly blessed to have been trained in writing by such an accomplished and talented writer and teacher as Mark Christensen.

One of the sincerest qualities of this man is that he is incredibly humble. Not full of himself in the least, he puts everything into his writing, and his teaching. He invests in his students' lives and futures as if they were his own, and he cares empathetically for each individual he encounters in the classroom.

During a time in my life when I was insecure and unsure of my abilities, he reminded me of my talent and worth. He has done this for me and countless other students throughout the years.

I have one more semester before I graduate with my master’s in English. This journey as a juggler of a graduate student, teacher and mother has been stressful at times, and some days I am so overwhelmed I don’t even know where to begin.

It is during these times that I remember Mark Christensen and his words of advice to me one day when I was flustered and frustrated with everything I have to do before graduation.

“Breathe. Breathe again. This is your time. Wallow in it.”

I realized he was absolutely right. A life of peace and happiness happens when you stop waiting for it and make the most of the moment you are in now. I will always remember this particular piece of advice and plan to apply it to every aspect of my life going forward.

After 32 years, this spring was Mark Christensen’s last semester of teaching at Bemidji State University. He has accomplished so much in his teaching career, and someday, I hope to be as helpful and inspirational to my own students, as he has been to his.

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Thank you, Mark, for giving me and so many others the courage to succeed.

Stephanie Martin is a graduate student and graduate teaching assistant in the English department at Bemidji State University.

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