Monday, December 8, 2014
--The Prof: A Eulogy to Professor Mike Shanahan
Death is hard, always.
A few weeks ago, a dear mentor and friend of mine, Mike Shanahan passed away. He was an amazing professor, mentor, friend, father and husband known and loved by many.
I was honored to speak at the George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs celebration of his life event this past Saturday, and wrote these remarks.
I think in life we know some people will die. Friends. Family members. Parents. But nobody prepares you to say goodbye to your mentors. So I did the best I could.
Good morning everyone. For those of you who don’t already know me, I’m Sandi Moynihan, and I was a student of Professor Shanahan's from 2009 to 2013, but I’ve been lucky to have had a really special friendship with The Prof for more than just the four years I was a student at GW.
At SMPA, our professors train us to tell stories for a living about politics, science or whatever interests us most. But besides teaching us how to be storytellers, whether they know it or not, they also leave us with stories about them.
I still remember the first time I met Professor Shanahan. I was a junior in high school and was visiting GW on a softball recruiting trip (I played for the Colonials). Because nobody on the team had ever graduated from SMPA, the coach arranged a informational meeting with me, my mom and a “well-known SMPA professor” — who just happened to be Professor Shanahan.
I don’t remember anything specific about what we talked about, but what I do remember is leaving the SMPA conference room feeling like Professor Shanahan was somebody that I really wanted to get to know during my time at GW, whether he liked it or not. Lucky him.
As fate would would have it, in my freshman year, Professor Shanahan was assigned to be my academic advisor and our relationship and friendship, albeit initially forced, began.
I can’t really put my finger on why Professor Shanahan and I hit it off so well — maybe it’s because I reminded him of his daughter, Claire, who also played college sports. Or maybe it’s because I was a pest and just kept showing up in his office. But over four years, fifteen minute required advising meetings about schedules and course selections became impromptu 45 minute conversations about everything and anything.
Not many professors would be willing to let you drop in on them in the middle of a busy day and talk about personal day-to-day things, like how your softball coach was driving you crazy, or how you can’t figure out the right lede in to a story or you how you really missed your mom’s cooking — but Professor Shanahan did. I think that most of his students will agree that he really took joy in making us all feel important, especially when we needed it the most.
Like many other students before me, I feel privileged that Professor Shanahan took a special and personal interest in me and made me feel at home in his little office when I was so far away from my family.
For me, Professor Shanahan was more than just a professor or adviser - he was a mentor, a father figure, a friend.
One of my favorite memories of Professor Shanahan didn’t happen in the classroom or his office or anywhere near SMPA, but actually at the GW softball field. In my junior year, when I had decided that I was going to graduate a term early and therefore ending my softball career after three seasons, Professor Shanahan promised me that he would come and watch one of my last games, and he did.
My family happened to be in town to watch me play that weekend too, and I told my dad that he should introduce himself to Professor Shanahan at the beginning of the game.
While I expected the two of them to chat for a few minutes at best, what I didn’t expect was to look up in the middle of the fifth inning, almost an hour into my game, and see the both of them were standing together on the outfield fence, talking away. Seeing my dad talking to Professor Shanahan, who I sometimes called my DC-dad, kind of made me feel like everything had come full circle. My dad still talks about the conversation that he had with Professor Shanahan that afternoon, and how much he enjoyed talking to one of my mentors and a fellow father who understands what it’s like to raise a house full of girls.
It hasn’t really sunk in that I won’t see another email signed by the Prof pop up in my inbox, or spend a long two hour lunch chatting with him about my career, our families, or whatever. I’ll really miss Professors Shanahan’s warm smile, his wise advice and the witty sense of humor I grew to love so much — and I’m sure I’m not the only one of his students who feels this way.
Professor Shanahan influenced so many young lives during his time at GW, and while he might not longer physically be with us, his spirit will surely live on in his family, friends and all the students that he taught.