Professors you love

Lee Congdon


Under his tutelage

By Michael Szymanski

Thirty-nine years ago, I arrived on the campus of Madison College with long hair and liberal ideas and the misguided belief that college would be easy. My first semester was a big wake-up call for me. Without a change in academic effort, it would be my last. I was lost with no direction and seriously considered dropping out of college. Fortunately, someone was there to help guide me. I made it through my freshman year thanks to Dr. Lee Congdon. I took his World History class my second semester and never looked back.

"He was always there to praise me when I did well and to remind me when I did not do so well."

We were a strange combination at the outset. He was a conservative Midwestern professor, serious about teaching and the role of students. I was a liberal East Coast kid with bad study habits but lots of intellectual curiosity. I had no idea what it took to survive at college, let alone succeed. But, for some inexplicable reason, we connected. His demeanor and teaching style was both engaging and intriguing. I soon found myself spending more and more time in his office soaking in his words of wisdom about our class specifically and life in general. It was after one of these meetings that I chose him as my academic advisor and the journey began. I came to him seeking knowledge and guidance, and he graciously listened and took the time to help me understand how to excel in college. Dr. Congdon was always patient and kind to me.

Along the way, I learned a great deal about friendship and life. I came to him as an unfocused young freshman, but he saw something in me and took me under his tutelage. He took an interest in me and told me that he believed that I had what it took to be successful; and, if I stuck with it, he would help me navigate the rough waters of my freshman year.

As the years progressed, he invited me to his house for dinner with his family. No other professor had ever invited me over. We would sit and chat for hours. In the beginning, I must admit that I only understood some of the philosophical topics we were discussing.   But I knew that if I kept listening and kept reading, it would all be revealed.

What I remember about Dr. Congdon was his warmth and concern for me. Underneath his, some would say, aristocratic exterior, he had a real compassion for students who worked hard and challenged him. He was always there to praise me when I did well and to remind me when I did not do so well.

Dr. Congdon shaped my attitude toward work, a lesson that has continued to bring me success throughout my career. I remember a conversation we had when I told him that I had spent the weekend in the library studying. I was so proud of myself. He asked me how much time I actually spent studying and how much time socializing. I told him that it was probably 50/50. He told me that library time was for studying. You study for hours; you get a sip of water; and you study for more hours. Although I personally did not think that anyone in their right mind would study like that, I understood his message. He was challenging me to strive for more, to not accept mediocrity and to work harder for the greater glory. He taught me to take charge of my education, encouraged me to think critically, think for myself and be confident in everything I do.

After graduation, I would return to Harrisonburg, and he would treat me as one of his family and welcome me with open arms. We would have dinner and continue those late night chats about the world, family and friends. I miss those times. Fortunately he has visited me in California, and I had the opportunity to introduce him to my kids. I think my kids were impressed by the fact that I actually knew a college professor and the professor had nice things to say about me.

He has written many books. I have read them all. I am probably one of a select few who has a complete autographed set of his books! He was a mentor, a father figure, a role model and friend to me, my wife and my children. He was a major influence in my life, always there for me, both academically and personally.

Everyone has a teacher that has made a difference in their life. For me, that teacher was Dr. Lee Congdon.

Professor Emeritus of History Lee W. Congdon began his career at Madison College in 1972. While at JMU, he has taught courses in world and modern European history. Despite his heavy teaching load, Congdon has pursued research and writing endeavors, which he claims give him great pleasure. He has done extensive research on the Hungarian intellectuals of the 19th century.

Back to Top

Last Updated: Monday, January 30, 2017

Related Articles