D. E. Larsen, DVM
The auditorium class quieted down as the professor took the stage. This was an entirely new experience for me. This class filled the auditorium, maybe 500 students.
The professor was a large man, and he looked like he could have been a linebacker in his college days. Not fat, just tall and well built, and very muscular.
He picked up a piece of chalk and, in a giant cursive script, he wrote ‘I presume?’ on the board. Then he returned to the podium.
“For those who don’t know me and have not figured it out yet, my name is Doctor Livingstone.”
The Fall of 1964 found me searching for some spark of inspiration to get my education back on track. I had been admitted to Colorado State University, and I was determined to pursue admission to veterinary school.
Just how I ended up in Doctor Livingstone’s botany class was a bit of a mystery to me, even at the time. It was a science course and could have been in the pre-veterinary requirements at the time. Or possibly, an astute advisor recognized that Doctor Livingstone could be helpful for this farm boy.
Doctor Livingstone’s lectures were as intriguing as was his initial introduction. I always preferred to sit in the back of the class, and I initially picked a seat near the back and closest to the exit, and I had a full view of the auditorium. When Doctor Livingstone was speaking, he held the full attention of the entire class.
This class of hundreds was broken down into smaller groups of about thirty students for the laboratory portions of the course. Graduate students conducted the lab classes, but seeing Doctor Livingstone dropping into the lab was not unusual.
This system had pluses and minuses. For one thing, it allowed for a personal relationship with the graduate student. But with that relationship, I would learn that the lab class had an assigned row of seats to use and that attendance would be taken. That wasn’t too bad, but I lost my perch in the back of the auditorium.
In one of our Thursday afternoon lab classes, Doctor Livingstone stood behind our small group as we were discussing the microscope slide we were working on that day. As was typical for me, I stumbled over a few scientific words.
Doctor Livingstone corrected my attempts at pronunciation and helped the four of us complete the exercise. Then I noticed he went and talked with the graduate student and checked the grade book.
As the class was cleaning up and I put my books into my pack, Doctor Livingstone came over and sat beside me.
“Mr. Larsen, you’re a pretty good student, at least in this class,” Doctor Livingstone said. “Do you always have trouble with these long words?”
“I just have to hear the word a few times before I can get all the syllables to come out right,” I said.
“I will give you a couple of tips that helped me a lot when I was your age,” Doctor Livingstone said. “I had a lot of problems also. Maybe I am a bit dyslexic, I don’t know, but I just had problems with the big words. It doesn’t matter what you call it in your mind. You just need to learn to spell it correctly. And then, when you do have to pronounce it, you should do so with utter self-confidence. You will find, if you do that confidently, after a short time, everyone around you will be using your pronunciation.”
It was sometime later before I wondered what it was that prompted the doctor to spend those few minutes with me. But it was advice that I follow to this day, and there are still words that I stumble over.
My stay at Colorado State in 1964 was brief. My classroom performance was less than stellar. This was primarily due to the lack of maturity to apply myself to necessary classes that did not interest me. The fact that Colorado sold three-point-two beer to eighteen-year-olds could have had some influence on my school work.
I experienced the best in professors in Doctor Livingstone. And I watched the worst professor in my educational experience in my History of Western Civilization class, but that is a different story. Friday night dinner with my roommates was always five hamburgers, purchased for a dollar, something new to me. My PE class was swimming, and it took several weeks for me to adjust to the altitude. I spent way too much money that term, but it was fun. And then there was a brief encounter with a wild preacher’s daughter. All life lessons, some better than others.
It took me seven years before I returned to Colorado State University. I was admitted to the College of Veterinary Medicine in the Fall of 1971.
There are lessons to be learned here, and they don’t involve the preacher’s daughter. I have always been concerned about all the advanced placement available for students coming out of high school today. It is hard to argue against because of the high cost of higher education today. But suppose you are placed above some classes. In that case, you may lose the opportunity for a great professor, like Doctor Livingstone, to influence the rest of your life. And perseverance pays off. Not everyone is made to fit the mold educators plan out for kids, some of us have to find our own way.