Unfinished Business

Two nongrads returned to IC this spring to complete their degrees.

By Gary E. Frank

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. . . .
And we must take the current when it serves,
or lose our ventures.”  — William Shakespeare

Beryl Macmillen Anderson, M.M. ’11, and Devon Glover ’11 likely have never met. The difference in their ages spans nearly six decades, with Glover being the younger of the two. Anderson, a widow and retired music teacher with three children and four grandchildren, grew up on a farm in upstate New York. Glover, the eldest of three boys, grew up in Brooklyn and is immersed in introducing urban youth to William Shakespeare through the prism of hip hop as the “Sonnet Man.”

But right now they have this in common: both returned to IC this spring to finish what they started — 54 years later in Beryl’s case, five for Devon. At the age of 86, Anderson completed the master’s degree in music education that she began working on in 1951. Glover, originally scheduled to graduate in 2006, earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics this summer.

A mother’s promise and a friend’s prodding

“My mother always talked about how she had wanted to learn how to play piano, but they didn’t have one when she was a child,” Anderson recalls. “She decided that if she ever had children, they were going to take piano lessons.”

While growing up in the small town of Knox, New York, during the late 1920s and early 1930s, the local school bus dropped off the two Macmillen sisters at the home of a local piano teacher for a one-hour lesson at a fee of $1 per hour. When the teacher raised her fee to $1.50, there were some anxious moments, says Anderson, but her mother said. “Don’t worry, we’ll find the money.” And they did.

“Each night when I got home from school I had to practice from four to five o’clock, nonstop” says Anderson. “We had Sundays off.”

Anderson went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in music and music education from Houghton College in 1949, with a concentration in piano. One of her two best friends, both of whom studied piano, suggested the trio enroll in Ithaca College’s master’s in music education program.

“I thought, ‘Oh, okay,’ so we went to Ithaca College for four summers, from 1951 to 1954,” says Anderson. “I had never been to Ithaca College before. It was downtown in the middle of the city. I remember it was very, very hot.”

In the meantime, Anderson had started her teaching career. She worked at two elementary schools in Beacon, New York, for two years. Late in her second year, the school superintendent called Anderson to his office.

“Someone on the school board had a son who had just graduated from college,” says Anderson. “He wanted a job, and his mother wanted to give it to him. I didn’t have tenure because I had been there only two years.” So, Beryl lost her job.

From Beacon, she landed work in Sullivan County, New York, teaching at elementary schools in Liberty and Livingston Manor. Returning to Ithaca in the summer of 1954 to work on her master’s thesis, she admits that a course titled “Bibliography and Sources” had intimidated her.

“I got the thesis all put together pretty well, but I didn’t finish the bibliography,” she remembers. “It was the end of summer, and I was tired. I thought, ‘I’ll do this later,’ but it never got done.”

By the following year, Anderson had begun a marriage and soon after gave birth to the first of three children. She continued to teach in a variety of elementary school positions in Liberty and Livingston Manor until retiring in 1984. Five years later her husband died.

For several years after retirement, Anderson taught private lessons and eventually built her clientele to as many as 30 pupils. Last May, she decided to clear out some old boxes and came upon one filled with academic memorabilia. Inside the box, under a textbook, was an envelope containing her unfinished master’s thesis.

When her daughter visited for Mother’s Day, Anderson showed her the unfinished thesis. Anderson’s daughter read the paper and said, “Mom, you should turn this in. You might get credit.”

“I pooh-poohed the idea, but last June I heard a news report about a 94-year-old lady who got her master’s, and I thought, ‘Oh gosh, 94,’” says Anderson, who decided to reread her thesis. Toward the end of last summer she heard another news report about an 88-year-old man who decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Although Anderson hadn’t thought about her thesis for many years, one of her Houghton and IC classmates she had stayed in touch with always encouraged her to complete what she had started. What finally moved her to act was prodding from another friend who works at the Rescue Mission in Schenectady, New York, where Anderson plays piano once a week.

“He asked me, ‘How old was Moses when God sent him to deliver the children of Israel out of Egypt,’” says Anderson. “I answered, ‘About ’80,’ and he insisted that I call someone at Ithaca College on my cell phone right then.”

Her inquiry made its way to Keith Kaiser, interim associate dean of the School of Music and chair of the Department of Music Education.

“When I got the first phone call about her I was ecstatic,” he says. “I thought, “‘What a great thing to do.’”

When Kaiser’s work-study assistant, Dana Arbaugh ’12, a music education major, read Anderson’s thesis, titled “The Administration and Direction of Elementary School Choruses,” she told him she thought it was “ahead of its time,” and after Kaiser read it, he agreed.

“The mid 1950s was a time when music education was starting to find its ground as a profession,” says Kaiser. “In the thesis, she talks about all-inclusive ensembles for students and about enrichment experiences for the students who may need additional musical experience, either because they are very talented or they need extra time to attain the skills.”

During the spring 2011 semester, Anderson received support from a variety of offices at IC to complete her degree and prepare to defend her thesis, Kaiser explains. The graduate office had to look up her transcript (handwritten in the 1950s) in order to see what courses Anderson had completed. Kaiser served as a thesis advisor. Because Anderson doesn’t use a computer, her thesis, partly typed and partly handwritten, was digitized into a Microsoft Word document with the assistance of the Information Technology Services office. Anderson wrote the additions and corrections to her thesis in longhand and mailed them to Kaiser. Arbaugh transcribed the notes.

“This was truly a exemplary effort,” says Kaiser. He also credits Rob Gearhart, associate dean of graduate and professional studies, and Timothy Johnson, chair of graduate studies in music, with contributing extensive support, time, and energy in assisting with the logistical and administrative aspects necessary to see Beryl complete her degree.

After her thesis was accepted, Anderson traveled to campus in April to defend her thesis, returning in May to receive her degree.

“It’s been wonderful,” she says. “I’ve been out of the academic world for so long I had to get myself worked up for all this. But I must say it’s been fun to get back here after all this time.”

Urban beats meet the bard

Since he left IC in 2004, Devon Glover has realized that being a teacher is what he wants to do.

“There are a lot of hurdles to becoming a teacher, and the first thing you need is that degree,” says Glover during a visit to campus in late March.

When he left Ithaca, Glover was only three credits shy of his degree in mathematics. He admits he had a lot on his plate between a heavy course load, two jobs, and a variety of extracurricular activities. While struggling to pay his tuition bills, he learned that his younger brother had been admitted to college. Things had reached the point where Glover could pay either his rent or his tuition, but not both. He decided to drop out of school and return to Brooklyn and work to help pay for his brother’s college tuition.

“It was just too much,” says Glover. “While my friends were gliding, by which I mean they did their course work in the right way, I was struggling.”

Glover worked at a variety of jobs, most of them connected to education in some fashion. He worked as a booking agent for a company that organizes spring break travel packages, a teacher’s assistant, a program leader and assistant for a youth program, and a mathematics tutor for students from elementary school to high school. In February 2009, he became a workshop facilitator for a program called Flocabulary, for which Glover composes, records, and performs hip-hop songs about educational topics and current events for various schools in greater New York and New Jersey.

Every so often, after someone observes Glover at work, they inevitably ask him why he isn’t a full-time teacher. The answer is always the same: “No degree.” For Glover, those three remaining academic credits have loomed larger with each passing year.

In late 2009, Glover was intro-duced to playwright and producer Arje Shaw by a mutual acquaintance, Melissa Guttman ’05. For nearly 20 years, Shaw had been looking for a way to put Shakespeare’s sonnets into a medium that might appeal to young people. The sonnets are 154 poems about love, nature, beauty, and the passage of time, almost all of which are constructed from three four-line stanzas and a closing couplet in iambic pentameter.

“What attracted me to the son-nets is they are all just 14 lines long, containing pearls of wisdom, and all that gorgeous language,” explains Shaw. “‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day . . .’ reflects values like beauty, nature, and respect for women.”

Glover, Shaw, Guttman, and a recording engineer named Daniel Lynas gathered in a Greenwich Village studio to attempt to set six sonnets to hip-hop rhythms. “We didn’t know what we’d get, but what we got was beautiful,” says Shaw.

To those who may blanch at the thought of setting the Bard of Avon’s oeuvre to 21st-century urban rhythms, Shaw and Glover believe that presenting the sonnets through a medium young people are familiar with — hip hop — is a way to open kids up to Shakespeare.

“If you introduce it to them in rhythms they can dance to or groove to, they may not know what they are saying, but they do know the words,” says Shaw. “And as they grow and mature in their lives, they eventually start to understand those words. The richness of Shakespeare — the beauty of it — is that it needs time to grow. It will flow as you flow.”

What makes Glover wonderful as the Sonnet Man, Shaw says, is the “same thing that makes him great in anything he does artistically. Devon has a phenomenal sense of compassion for people. He just embodies it. He’s a very modest kid, and he’s out there struggling, trying to make the best of everything, and he never complains.”

Late last year, Glover’s story caught the attention of singer-actress Kathie Lee Gifford, now a co-host of The Today Show. Gifford has introduced a segment titled “Everyone Has a Story,” which showcases inspiring examples of individuals who have overcome personal obstacles. On January 6, Glover performed live on The Today Show with Broadway star and singer, Darius de Haas.

Shaw confesses to being shocked when he learned Glover had not finished his degree at IC. He talked with a friend who was an administrator at City College of New York (CCNY), who in turn contacted IC. Glover thought he owed IC several thousand dollars, but the CCNY administrator learned that the actual amount was about half that. With Shaw’s help, Glover was able to get started clearing up those last three credits.

Jim Conklin, associate professor of mathematics, had worked with Glover a few years earlier to develop an independent study course that incorporated elements of a 300-level course, Introduction to Real Analysis, but Glover wasn’t able to complete the course because he lacked the funds. The concepts of real analysis are applicable to the music world, Conklin says, especially the digital technology so widely used in recording.

“It’s great that Devon can come back and finish his degree,” says Conklin. “He is eager to be back, especially because he’s seeing how the mathematics relates to his music.”

Glover is grateful for the guidance and academic support he’s received, but just as important for him are the messages of encouragement he received after he left school from Conklin; Louise Mygatt, a lecturer in music theory, history, and com-position; and others.

Glover is on track to complete the independent study course by August and hopes to attend graduate school, with the eventual goal of teaching in college. In the meantime, he is optimistic about the doors his role as the Sonnet Man is opening for him.

“I hope the Sonnet Man brand inspires new approaches to education, whether through hip hop, a new ‘schoolhouse rock,’ or something else,” says Glover. “In New York City, all I hear about is the decline in the schools or the decline in student performance. Well, sometimes it’s not just the students; it’s how they are taught. Students have to be taught in a way in which they can learn.”

But after his experiences in gaining an education, Glover also believes the way students are taught doesn’t absolve them of their responsibility for their own success.

“A closed mouth doesn’t get fed,” he says. “You have to try.”

In a paraphrase of Shakespeare, the Sonnet Man sings the rewards of making that effort when he says, “Open your mind, and see/what you can get accomplished./It’s a time-less pleasure unmeasured.”

Learn more about Devon as the Sonnet Man and view his Today Show interview here.