SAU Honors College

The SAU Honors College was founded in 2003 by Dr. David Rankin, president of SAU. Dr. Lynne Belcher served as founding director and recently retired from SAU. The Honors College seeks and admits qualified students who seek to pursue a serious academic program with equally gifted peers and committed teachers. Honors classes are small and provide academically enriching opportunities for students and the faculty who teach them. Currently, SAU enrolls nearly 170 honors students and graduates about 66% of admitees in four years or less. Anyone interested in applying to the Honors College or seeking further information should contact the director, Dr. Edward P. Kardas at or at 870 904-8897.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

I Feel Like a Silent Movie Actor


I Feel Like a Silent Movie Actor


In 1929 a minor disaster occurred, the birth of talkies, or movies as we now know them. It was not a disaster for the general public but it was for many silent movie stars. Some were unable to perform in the talkies because of their accents, others disdained the new medium entirely, while others could not cope with the new requirements for sound: microphones or directors not being able to shout instructions while filming. Even Variety, Hollywood’s journal, argued that “movie stars should be screened and not heard.” Famous actors lost their fame and fortune nearly overnight. I’m sure you have not heard of John Gilbert, Norma Talmadge, Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Pola Negri, Vilma Bánky, or Clara Bow. All of them either failed to make the transition to talkies or refused to do so. Bánky’s Hungarian accent ended her career. (see: Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin did make the transition successfully. MGM even advertised Garbo’s talkie debut writing “Garbo talks.” (see:

            So why would I feel like a silent movie actor? It’s long past 1929. Why does Covid play a role in my case? Think about it. Since I began teaching I have stood in front of a class and talked. Sure, the props have changed. It has been many a year since I scratched out words on a blackboard using chalk. No more chalk dust on my clothes either. Now the boards are white and I use markers instead. Projection, however, has been the major change. I have gone from overhead projectors, to LCD panels on top of those overhead projectors, to projecting from a web page to my laptop in class. Yet, even with all of those differing methods I was still standing in front of the class talking and sometimes answering questions.

            Last March everything changed and today those changes are still evident. Who would have imagined wearing masks and a whole industry emerging selling them in all kinds of colors and patterns? Plexiglass, too, now it’s everywhere. Zoom? Who had ever heard of Zoom? Dr. Berry and I were chatting the other day. He called our situation a “new normal.” He’s correct. I cannot imagine SAU taking down the plexiglass it has installed. We may need it still and may need it again, I’m sorry to say. There will be another virus. Online classes have been around for a while now. In 1992 I even chaired SAU’s first online committee; that’s when I first began to write web pages. Those early plans for online education at SAU were shelved. The connection speeds were still too slow, the computer memories were too small, and our classrooms were not yet ready. Slowly, though, online education did creep in using various forms and mediums. Dr. Rankin, for instance, gave live lectures from a TV studio on campus. Before Covid  online courses and programs already existed at SAU. I even heard some students say they liked to take the online courses because it meant they could stay in their rooms and in their pajamas! Other students, however, found that the online experience was not for them because it demanded too much self-discipline or because there were still too many glitches in the network and the computers attached to it. Me, I liked teaching the way I had all my career. In fact, I even vowed never to teach an online course before I retired.

            As you might imagine, I broke my vow. I had to. It was either adapt or retire. I chose the former. SAU gave us faculty a few days to convert our classes to an online format. The Task Force was formed to provide direction about how we should respond to Covid. We wore our masks, we washed our hands, we stayed home, and recently we got vaccinated. We had no choice. Covid is that dangerous.

            Adapting was not easy and it was work. I had to write down the words I used to speak in class. That took time. I had to learn to use BlackBoard. Before that I even used SurveyMonkey to give tests. I like Blackboard better for testing and all of its classroom management capabilities although I’m still not taking advantage of many of those. I discovered that there were aspects of teaching online that I liked or even enjoyed. One was being able to communicate directly with students after grading their tests. I could easily send them an e-mail encouraging them for their performance or urging them to study harder and better. One thing I really liked about being online was being home and not having to get dressed and drive to work. On a two-hour trip to Texarkana with a fellow faculty member I noticed my voice was giving out. That, too, was a consequence of being online. I was no longer used to talking for long periods. When I taught in the classroom that happened too but after a week or so my voice would adapt and get stronger. So, the short story is I adapted to a serious historical situation.

            You were forced to adapt too. Many had to go home and had to learn online. Once you returned in the spring you had to accommodate to hybrid, online, or face-to-face classes. Masks had to worn always and personal distance had to be respected. But here you are: SAU Honors College graduates. You made it. Now what?

            We don’t call graduation commencement for no reason. You may see your college years ending but in reality it’s the rest of your life that’s beginning; that’s commencing. Some of you have jobs already, some of you are still looking and deciding, some of you will pursue more education either here or elsewhere. What all of you will find, though, is a different world than you imagined four years ago when you first came to SAU and the Honors College. Like the silent movie stars or the grizzled college professors you too will have to adapt to that changed world. On April 15th I made my first move back into that changed world. I spoke in public at SAU for the first time since March 2020. I spoke to high school students who may someday attend SAU and join the Honors College. We met in Grand Hall. There was around 20 of them and they were appropriately socially distanced and masked. I had my mask on too. Dr. Berry had addressed the group a few minutes earlier and had taken off his mask to talk to them, so I did the same once I began to speak. I was very mindful, however, of keeping my distance from them. I quickly fell into my usual patter, you have all heard parts of it before: Why are manhole covers round?, What is honors?, What GPA you need to stay in the Honors College, What are the benefits? And so on…

            Although my spiel was familiar and practiced, it still felt strange. At the end. I automatically masked up. As I left, I had trouble recognizing students who greeted me because I could only see their eyes. I knew not to shake hands or get too close to anyone. While speaking to the high schoolers, I made sure to wear a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and Birkenstocks. When I went home those came off and I went back to my gym shorts and t-shirts. I have only worn a Hawaiian shirt twice since March! Now I live in t-shirts all day long and walk around barefooted most of the time.

            Yet, there are bigger and more serious changes ahead and some have already taken place while others still await us. Travel, what’s that? David and I worked hard to increase student travel and the educational opportunities it provides. Now, travel is almost completely out of the question. I will miss attending NCHC for the first time since I became honors director. I don’t wish to risk flying to Orlando and it’s 14 hours by car. You may have or will soon have experienced something similar. Maybe your job interview took place remotely. Maybe that campus visit to a grad school could not take place. Maybe you zoomed in instead.

            Notice that none of us anticipated these changes. No one did, really. Yet, here we all are in a new world, a lethal one at that. Like the silent movie stars we will either adapt or fail. I expect all of you to adapt. That’s why you chose to attend SAU. Education is not so much the learning of facts and figures, it’s learning how to cope with change. It’s possessing the tools and the mental wherewithal to assess the new environment and then thrive in it. You now have those tools, use them.

            Now think about the honors students who enrolled in 2020. Unlike you, they were forced to take Honors Seminar online. They and I did not meet three times a week in Honors Hall. They were not exposed to my limited sartorial choices. I did not get the chance to interact with them as I did with you. You might remember me telling you that the bulk of our interactions over four years would take place that first semester in Honors Seminar. This class and I missed that opportunity. So, that’s the main reason I want to meet the next class of honors students face-to-face in Honors Seminar. We will not meet in that small classroom in Honors Hall. Anyone can see why not; it’s too small an area. Instead, the class has been moved to Overstreet 302, a much larger room. I’m sure we will still be wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

            So, your class had to face a drastic change late in your tenure at SAU. The 2020 entering class was hit with the same problem at the outset of their time at SAU. Their honors experience will be much different than yours, to be sure. The 2021 entering class will have their own unique set of experiences as well. Things change, and we either change with them or we fail. I’m sure, however, that all of you will adapt. I’m also sure that the visions you had about your futures when you first set foot at SAU are different now. Recalibrate, deal with the changes that come without you intending them to. The old silent movie stars that succeeded learned to deal with being in the talkies, your 72 year-old honors director did not take the easy way out and retire. Instead, he broke his vow, put his shoulder to the task, learned to use new tools, and, remarkably, discovered that teaching online was not so bad.

            David and I apologize to you for having to cancel the annual senior recognition reception and for having to leave the honors office unmanned. Nevertheless, we congratulate you on your achievements. We feel you are among the best SAU has to offer the world. Commence again now and expect that you will again face surprise challenges. You adapted to this one, we’re sure you can now adapt to any.

            Finally, do try to keep in touch with us and we’ll try to do the same. Good luck and good fortune in the future. We’ll miss you but that’s part of our job, to send you off to your futures, even if those were not what any of us expected they would be.


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