In Memoriam

A small something I felt compelled to post on Facebook. Just found out about the sad passing of my former professor Katherine Hagedorn.

What an awful loss for our community. She was an absolutely WONDERFUL person. I took her class Gendering Performance during my first year. It was an experience so weird and lovely that it put down those final Pomona roots for me.

Only three girls signed up, and when we showed up the first day, she said, “I’m not sure if they’ll make me cancel this class. Let’s see if we can make this work, just the four of us.” It was a challenge she delivered with kindness and a batty kind of enthusiasm. Every other day, we all sat in the front row and we always did our readings the night before, because no one wanted to experience an awkward lull. There were three women amongst fifteen empty desks, one of them a first-year, one of them a graduating senior, and one of them a Scrippsie. It was the professor’s equivalent of the kids no one picked for dodgeball.

But Prof Hagedorn made it her class. She was a good teacher. In every way a teacher can be good. She was transported by music, whether she was playing us a record or heartily attacking a taiko drum. A fierce feminist. And when she said the final project was open-ended, I asked if I could play Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in my Pocket” for our final. Actually play the guitar, because I was delusional and still 18. I knew 5 chords. I also sang along in my best Alanis whine, and delivered a verbal treatise on women’s agency in ’90s pop. I could not believe she was letting me get away with this for a final. It sucked badly. She knew I sucked, and the senior and the Scrippsie knew I sucked. Her face was beautifully transparent when she showed me my grade for the semester: The hell with it; we all had a good time together. Take the A and run, freshwoman.

I would see her all the time after that, for the next three years. I ran into her on the Little Bridges steps, or at a concert on campus. And she always had a smile for me, always treated me like we’d just had class together next week. Some professors kind of stop acknowledging you after a year or so, like you’re a one-semester stand that they wouldn’t mind forgetting. Prof Hagedorn just wasn’t like that. She was cool and kind. She was just a bright woman in every sense of the word, who sought out the bright everywhere, especially in her students and in her music.

In many ways, she was the quintessential teacher, one whose path crosses yours briefly, and whose ripples turn your life’s tide just a little, and just enough. I hope she had a lot of love surrounding her in her last days. She will be utterly and totally missed.

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