In the summer of 1998, I was eagerly anticipating my freshman year at Beloit College. Meanwhile, you were making preparations for the incoming class of 2002 by putting together a list to help you and your colleagues “watch their references.” After all, this year’s freshmen were born in 1980 and rumored to be not half as smart as their parents were.
You welcomed me to your First Year Initiatives class, “How Alfred Hitchcock Helped Us Win The Cold War.” It was a crash course in liberal arts thinking, and I loved the process of discovery, comparison, and interpretation. I declared a double major in literary studies and creative writing, and signed up for your classes as often as possible.
As the semesters passed, I found it easier to decipher both what you were writing on the board and what it all meant. With each paper, I tried to live up to the criticism offered in the margins of the previous one. Fix grammar. Better substantiation. NO PASSIVE VOICE. Too wordy. Develop this idea. Finally, in one of my last essays, you declared me to be “a master of the periodic sentence,” praise that was uniquely McBride and all the more important to me for it. I was equally honored that year to receive the Marion & David Stocking Prize for the best creative non-fiction.
When I was a high school sophomore, my English teacher informed me that I was “a born English major.” As one of your roasters poignantly remarked, I was always going to be a writer, but you made me a better one. I would be remiss at this point in failing to thank the Wrights: Lisa Haines Wright for teaching me how to question the world and Steve Wright, how to answer it. But Tom, you were the one who gave me the tools to do so, and I continue to use them in my personal and professional writing.
Two years after graduation, I returned for the 2004 Alumni College, where I discovered my new role as a member of Beloit’s alumni. Classes from every decade going back to the 1930s were represented. I could see the common spirit that brought each of us to Beloit in the first place, and then brought us back again to your class that summer.
I returned to campus in June for my 10-year reunion. The Roast of Tom McBride was, as anticipated, delightfully irreverent and a joy to watch. And as each alum concluded his roast with a deeply moving expression of gratitude to you, I could clearly see not only your legacy but that of Roxie Alexander and Marion Stocking stretching through both past and future generations of Beloit writers. I never had the opportunity to take a class with Marion or Roxie, but they—and you—drew me to Beloit College via the experiences of my fellow alumni.
Tom, that night wasn’t simply a celebration of your accomplishments (or your debauchery, for that matter). Your former students are all well aware of the influence you have had on us both personally and professionally because it is a part of our identity. And because you made us who we are, we now make you who you are: an alumnus of Beloit College. It’s a marvelous thing, that interconnectedness of alumni and those who taught them. Welcome to Beloit, Tom: It’s turtles all the way down.
Class of 2002