LC in History: Rosser’s Honor

Dr Clifton W. Potter ~ LC History Professor

Recently an email message was sent to everyone on campus soliciting nominations for the Shirley E. Rosser Excellence in Teaching Award.

As far as I am concerned, it is the most important honor a faculty member can receive because a student makes the nomination. There is an engraved plaque in Hall Campus Center which lists the names of the men and women who have received this award over the years.

Some of the names may be familiar, but who was Shirley E. Rosser?

Rosser was a member of the Lynchburg College class of 1940. After a tour in the navy during World War II, he returned to Lynchburg and spent the rest of his professional life serving the college. His subject was physics, and it was said that one’s education at LC was not complete without a class under Rosser.

In my wildest dreams, I could not imagine myself taking a physics course, but he also taught astronomy. In the final semester of my senior year, I enrolled in that class and began an adventure that has enriched my life ever since.

I learned a great deal about the wonders of the physical universe, but I also received priceless lessons in the art of teaching.

I had been accepted into the doctoral program at the University of Virginia the previous November; after a semester with Rosser, I knew I wanted to return to LC and try to follow in his footsteps. However, everyone knows I am not a physicist.

Good teaching transcends all disciplines. If Rosser had taught art history, German or economics, he would have still been a superb teacher. What made him so special?

He loved what he did, and what was that? He shared the passion of his intellectual life with successive generations of students for over four decades and never lost the wonder of helping them discover a whole new world of ideas and concepts.

There was a freshness about his classes—as if you were the first student to share a particular discovery with him. Thousands had already had that experience. There were no “dumb” questions.

He never humiliated a student in front of their peers or in private. His door was always opened, and he always seemed to have time to talk or to help. One always felt that Rosser had been sitting at his desk just waiting for you to knock on the door.

Rosser never stopped learning. When I was a junior, several students formed a group to study Latin grammar under the direction of a gifted first-year. He joined our group and struggled with the rest of us through the third declension and the subjunctive. Years later we would reminisce about our experiences with Caesar and Cicero.

Rosser was always there for his students—to celebrate their triumphs and to support them in the midst of tragedy or failure. With his passing, an era in the life of our college ended.

Of all the accolades I have received in a long career, I most treasure being chosen to receive the Rosser Award. The only difficulty has been in trying to deserve it!

If you wish to honor one of your professors, there is no finer way to do it than to nominate them for the Shirley E. Rosser Excellence in Teaching Award. The deadline has passed for this year, but there is always next year.