A Fulfilling Joy

Andrew Wender’s tribute to Leo, given at the Celebration of Life at UVic’s Interfaith Chapel, January 28th, 2012. Andrew was Leo’s History professor. Words included below.

As sincerely sorrowful as I am over the loss of Leo—a loss not only to his family, but to a UVic community where I experienced how genuinely beloved he was—I am grateful for having had my life and teaching vocation enriched by him, and for the privilege of participating in the celebration of his life. Through his intellectual brilliance, boundless curiosity, and tenacious, yet ever-gracious commitment to making his personal character and academic performance the best they could be, Leo exemplified why it is a fulfilling joy, and a daunting challenge to have the opportunity to teach someone like him: a fulfilling joy, because he exuded the profound appreciation for learning, and generous collaboration in pursuit of knowledge, for which the teacher-student relationship exists; and a daunting challenge, because of the need to keep up with his longing to learn ever more, a need that has constantly pushed me to try and match his striving.

I met Leo for the first time in September 2010, when he enrolled in my first-year twentieth-century world history course. Throughout that full-year course, during our frequent conversations over the past year and a half, and up through the happy anticipation that I held at having him enroll in my politics and religion course this term, he stood forth as an extraordinary student whom professors dream of having, and as a kind, uplifting, deeply interesting—and interested—person whom one is always delighted to encounter. Leo’s happy but purposeful demeanor, perfect attendance, sharp questions and insights, and above all, his unfailing thoughtfulness were a key part of what made me look forward to walking into our world history classroom: I will always be grateful to him for bailing out my technological incompetence, and making it possible for our class to learn from history in the making, as we all watched climactic events in Egypt unfold on Leo’s computer, rather than on the A/V system that I couldn’t figure out how to operate.

Even though Leo’s vast intellect was plain to anyone who heard him speak, he wore his abundant gifts with modesty, and an equally-abundant generosity of spirit: as a classmate of his once commented to me, “Leo is such a sweetheart!”  Yes, I agreed…while wanting to add, and you should see his papers! Those papers were indeed amazing: from Leo’s first major essay, on how World War I helped to galvanize colonized peoples in Africa towards rising up against unjust rule, to a subsequent paper that critically analyzed the development of human rights discourse as a potential cover for imperial motivations, Leo’s thought and expression conveyed a depth, nuance, and ethical commitment that, in all honesty, would have been the envy of an experienced academic. I will now share the secret that, fearful as I am of letting an exceptionally gifted student think that he or she has nothing to learn—or, worse, accusations that I might contribute to grade inflation!—I would have to search Leo’s work for flaws, locating some rationale to save me from having to hand out A+’s, rather than the mere A’s on which, of course, Leo wanted to know how he could improve.

Ultimately, however, Leo cared about much more than markers of success like grades: indeed, perhaps more than any other basis for the great esteem in which I hold Leo is the fact that, in an era where it is often said that people—not only young people of Leo’s generation, but people in general—do not care, Leo cared immensely: about the world that fascinated him in every imaginable respect, and about the ways in which he sought to help improve it through the study of law and politics. As he lit up the Political Science Department hallways with the glow of his curious, courteous presence—impeccably-bred guy that he was, I never could get him to call me Andrew!—Leo would drop into my office for stimulating discussions that prompted me to think in new ways about the essential connections between the disciplines, Political Science and History, that I was fortunate to share with him.  I was honored that he would ask me questions about ideas he was encountering in all of his classes, including those with other professors; admiring that he would find endless connections among those ideas; and grateful to learn from all that he pondered.

Leo lived in a manner that I would wish to emulate: he was ceaselessly engaged in the breadth of the world, in pursuits that he found fulfilling, and in the lives of people who mattered to him, and he did so with kindness and dignity. He set a beautiful example: I will miss him so much, and to the Chan family, I am so very sorry for your loss.

– Andrew Wender


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