September Inspired2Educate Winner

Shonda Buchanan, Assistant Professor
Hampton University
Hampton, Virginia

The first time I entered my freshman Shakespearean class at Loyola Marymount University, it wasn’t quite with a groan, but neither was I filled with excitement. As an English major, I loved modern poetry, Octavia Butler and magic realism. When the teacher entered the class, she greeted us politely but there was a kind of wild glee in her eyes. “Good morning, class, I’m Dr. Barbara Rico.” Because I’m a writer, I want to add something to her greeting such as, “you have no idea what you’re going to experience in my class, do you?” Because we didn’t. Dr. Rico wrote furiously on the board the entire semester, had us reading from texts and memorizing the Prologue of The Canterbury Tales, and I was never once bored. You could tell she loved not only her work, but the world that she wove around us, and that she most dearly loved sharing her passion.

She made the work and the Elizabethan era come alive and while all these comedies, tragedies, blazons and anti-blazons were swirling around my little head, I fell in love with the language, the time period and with Dr. Rico’s style of teaching. She poured it all into the classroom and made us feel as our classroom was watching everything from the front row. Watching her made me believe I could one day teach, even though I was never expected to go to college, even though I was a single-mother at the time and sometimes had to bring my one-year old child to class in a car seat. Dr. Rico never once blinked at my circumstances. Throughout my matriculation, I took every Rico class because I knew not only would I be entertained but I would LEARN and retain the knowledge I studied in her class: the knowledge would become my own.

One day at the beginning of my senior year, Dr. Rico gave me an application to a Ph.D. program at Stanford University. “I think you have what it takes to get into this program,” she said. Even though, I was not lucky enough to be chosen for this program, her belief in me is what I remember from this moment in my life. That feeling propelled me through my Master’s degree and my MFA in Creative Writing. I truly believe if I would not have met Dr. Rico, and saw her as a model for my life, and felt her genuine concern for my future, I would not be an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and English at Hampton University today, where I’ve been since 2004. Thank you Dr. Rico, and to all those other college professors out there who change the trajectory of young lives, making us believe in ourselves and our ability to one day be at the front of a classroom, wild-eyed and filled with possibilities.