Barry McNamara  |   Published May 31, 2020

‘Blessedly, Tempus Fugit in Such Pursuits’

English professor Craig Watson shaped Monmouth’s English program, curriculum, and farm and garden.
  • CRAIG WATSON, THEN AND NOW: “Find what you love to do and then find how to make a living at it.”

MONMOUTH, Ill. – English professor Craig Watson has retired from teaching, but his impact on Monmouth College will be felt for decades to come – by the generations of students he educated and inspired; by the College’s curriculum, which he helped to shape; and even by the land around Monmouth itself, which Watson helped transform, over the past decade, into an educational garden and a market farm.

His longtime faculty colleague Steve Buban summarized those impacts as part of a video tribute to Watson, which was created in lieu of the College’s traditional retirement ceremony for faculty and staff.

Buban spoke of the development of the garden and farm – which Watson will continue to oversee this summer and lend a hand at when possible in the future – as well as his “life-altering” impact on students and his advocacy for the liberal arts.

Toward the latter end, Watson was instrumental in developing a freshman seminar course, which eventually became “Introduction to Liberal Arts,” as well as the College’s Honors Program for select students.

“A question on the Monmouth’s Honors Program application years ago, which now appears as an interview question on Scholarship Day, goes something like this,” said Watson. “’When have you experienced joy and wonder in learning something new or doing something with your intelligence that was so powerful time seemed to fly by? What has that experience told you about yourself and your future?’”

Said Watson, “I have found over time that many students respond to this question with enthusiasm, gratitude and … relief. A luminous possibility of living opens before them: finding out what they passionately love to learn and learn to do may lead to a vocation, to life’s work. I have had all that, and in saying goodbye to 34 classes of seniors, my best wish for them at graduation has ever been what I first said when they matriculated: ‘Find what you love to do and then find how to make a living at it.’”

“He can always hold a room and he can always make you cry. Most of the time it’s from beautiful poetry. Sometimes it’s because he’s a tough grader. I’ve cried for both reasons.”
– Jess Bybee ’14

One of those graduating seniors was Alex Holt ’12 of Chicago, who imagined himself on an entirely different track at Monmouth – a track focused solely on material success – until he took an Honors course from Watson and ultimately changed his major.

“I realized that what I really wanted was to spend not just college but my life asking real questions, important questions like ‘What does it mean to have a self, and be a citizen, right now, in this moment?’” said Holt in his video message to Watson. “Those are the questions that define me to this day, and I would not be the person or the professional or the partner that I am without having you as a role model to show me just how satisfying it is to live a passionate life of the mind.”

“You were a foundational figure in my life,” said an emotional Eric Seaman ’05 of Georgetown, Texas, who also recalled Watson singing the praises of a liberal arts degree. “I’m in IT. Every day, I write, and every day people pay me to use the skills you taught me. I’m forever grateful.”

Watson elaborated on Holt’s and Seaman’s sentiments.

“The liberal arts educate generalists, amateurs and lifelong learners who are at least as interested in multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary studies as in terminal degrees in any single field,” he said. “For me, the best conversations about curriculum and pedagogy, among colleagues and students alike, have always been about human resourcefulness and general education – about developing analytical and synthetic skills to solve complex problems, yes, but also about learning to make ethical judgments in ambiguous circumstances, and aesthetic judgments about what is beautiful and worth celebrating in an ‘examined life.’ Of course, for me, teaching literature and writing have been the happiest and the darkest places to go for that excitement. The most profound.”

Jess Bybee ’14 of Chicago recalled one of those profound moments that literature created, when Watson stopped mid-lecture to recite “A Postcard from the Volcano” by Wallace Stevens.

“He closed his eyes and delivered it – brilliantly – and then when he opened his eyes, we were all crying,” she said. “That’s what I will always remember about Dr. Watson. He can always hold a room and he can always make you cry. Most of the time it’s from beautiful poetry. Sometimes it’s because he’s a tough grader. I’ve cried for both reasons.”

Lindsey Gates-Markel ’06 of Urbana, Ill., recalled a moment when Watson shared the memory of finding one of his childhood journals full of lessons and revelations.

“All of these lessons and revelations … he could have sworn he had just arrived at in adult life,” said Gates-Markel. “The lesson of that story being that we are always relearning the same lessons, the same stories. The same themes will pop up throughout our lives, and we should expect that. Knowing to expect that has been a major guiding force in my life. I really do think about that story all the time.”

Watson said that, more recently, the Monmouth College Educational Garden and Market Farm, “as sites of multi-disciplinary study, have taught me and dozens of others problem solving and appreciation in the context of citizenship – thinking globally and acting locally about climate change and growing food.

“Blessedly, tempus fugit in such pursuits.”

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