Bidding Farewell to UT and Its Best Professor

Adam Labonte

Beyond what knowledge we take out of our classes, a large part of the experience that we gain from college is the friendships and relationships we forge with the campus community. As I think retrospectively on my past four years as a UT student, I realize how many great friendships I have formed and how I have been inspired by and relied on advice and guidance from these countless students, faculty and staff. Although space limitations do not allow me to individually express my gratitude to these people, there is one person who I must thank for everything he has done for me over the past four years and for helping me become the person I am today.

When I first arrived at UT in August 2003, I felt like a deer blinded in headlights, overwhelmed by the opportunities that lie ahead and the craziness that occurs during freshmen orientation. During one of those first days, a reception for parents was held so they could meet their child’s Gateways adviser. When she returned to campus that afternoon, she told me that she met my adviser and was sure that I would think he was wonderful. That next day I set off for my first official day of Gateways class and was met by Dr. Richard Piper in the classroom.

My mother was absolutely correct in her assessment of Dr. Piper. Since that first Gateways class, I have been fortunate to become a friend and student of his. He has advised me on issues not limited to just the classes I will take, but how to handle a conflict in an organization or problems that have arisen with friends. As I look back, everything that I have accomplished at UT can be at least somewhat accredited to Dr. Piper’s role in my student career.

As a professor of Government and World Affairs, Dr. Piper has inspired me in his classroom, and no semester has been complete without taking a class offered by him. In four years I have had five courses and nine hours of independent study with him. There is not a professor more passionate about the topics they teach, and he possesses a gift for making a two hour lecture whiz by without boring students and making the material seem both easy and interesting.

I can also thank Dr. Piper for his role in “internationalizing” me. During one of those first Gateways classes, he mentioned that he was offering a course the following spring that would culminate in a trip to Russia. I had always been interested in traveling abroad, and he offered me my first opportunity. Since that extremely eventful trip in May 2004, I have since been on two more summer trips abroad with him and am anxiously awaiting traveling to Europe and Vietnam with him this summer. Beyond the six countries I have visited so far with him, he has also inspired me to spend a semester abroad and travel to other countries on my own.

As an adviser to countless student organizations, I owe Dr. Piper much gratitude for inspiring me to become an involved student leader. His encouragement led to my involvement in Student Government, in which I have served as a freshmen congressman and treasurer. In addition, because of his inspiration, I have been involved in many other organizations and leadership positions on campus, including the Diplomats, the Diversity Fellowship and this newspaper.

Through his role as Honors Program Director, Dr. Piper has inspired me to take nine honors classes and several enrichment tutorials. He encouraged me to apply for the Honors at Oxford semester, and he prepared me for the high possibility I wouldn’t be selected after my first application. He encouraged me to apply for the two Honors Research Fellowships I have received, and this year I have been fortunate enough to work closely with him studying Eastern Europe and the European Union. He and I have traveled to three Honors conferences around the country to present on UT’s Honors abroad programs. My experience in the Honors Program has helped me become a better student and has been an extremely great asset to my academic career.

Dr. Piper’s greatest quality, however, is his dedication to students. This is evident in his adviser role for many organizations over the years, his commitment to student success in his classes and his belief in taking students abroad in order to let us experience what we learn in the classroom. Although UT is blessed with many dedicated professors who care about students, I don’t think there are any more committed to student success than Dr. Piper. From the hours we have sat next to each other on airplanes to afternoons spent in restaurants talking about politics or graduate school, I have always been able to rely on his candid advice, even when I might not like the answers he gives me.

My story is just one of many from countless students whom Dr. Piper has inspired in a teaching career that has spanned four decades. I can honestly say that I would not be the person I am today had I not been fortunate enough to be placed in Dr. Piper’s Gateways class my freshman year and work under him as a student since then. The past four years have undoubtedly been the greatest I have ever experienced, and I thank you, Dr. Piper, for playing such a major role in my time at UT.

Leave a Reply

Back To Top