By Dr. Drew Shannon, Associate Professor of English

will sack and drew shannon

Some people are active listeners.  There’s something in the gaze, something in the set of the face, an intensity that lets you see the wheels turning.  I met William Sack his second semester at the Mount, in my Written Word class.  The first thing I noticed was that look on his face, that active-listening look.  There was a stillness, a gravity to him that immediately stood out.  But underneath that stillness, I thought, hurricanes of thought were going on. 

Will has worn that look in every class since, and I’ve always had the sense that the things I say, the things we read, the ideas we discuss, are landing in his consciousness, where they’re being sifted and sorted and organized and processed. 

The second thing I noticed, several weeks into that first course, was his writing ability.  Poised, elegant, thoughtful, and wise beyond its years.  Damn, I thought.  What’s this kid doing in Written Word?  He doesn’t need this. 

The third thing I noticed was that when he spoke in class--and, knowing him, he won’t believe me when I say this--he would say things with complete authority, and would be willing to go against the prevailing tone of the conversation apparently without fear. 

The fourth thing I noticed was that Will operated, in writing and in conversation, from a strong moral position, a sense of what is right and wrong, coupled with a remarkable ability to wrestle with these notions in the messy middle where we all actually live. 

By my count, I’ve taught Will in eleven courses, which not only is a personal record for me but which also qualifies as a Minor in Drew Shannon Studies.  Will is my advisee, and I should have shared him more often with my colleagues.  I would apologize to them now, but I would be lying.  In all of these courses, and, as I can tell by looking at his transcript, in all of his other classes, he maintained these incredibly high standards, all while wrestling with anxiety and personal issues. 

It is perhaps this, the fifth thing I noticed about Will, that makes me admire him the most.  Will is a shy person.  (That’s an understatement.)  And yet I’ve watched him wrestle with his shyness, wrestle with his anxiety, wrestle with his fears, and come out the other side stronger, more sure of himself, more confident, and more at ease with himself than he was four years ago.  He’s emerged as a quiet but authoritative leader of the Liberal Arts students.  I’ve not met a single faculty member who’s taught him who wasn’t dazzled by his work, and he even managed to impress my friend, the novelist Ann Patchett, who is not remotely a pushover. 

I continue to be impressed by the range of Will’s interests:  he is conversant in literature and in film; he writes fiction and poetry and scripts; he’s interested in the world around him.  And he is a deeply good person.  I for one cannot wait to see what he achieves.  I fully expect to be dazzled by the things he makes and the good he does.  It is my sincere pleasure to present the Outstanding Liberal Arts Graduate Award to Will Sack.