Former and current students, colleagues, family, and friends came together during Emerson Week to celebrate Professor Mike Brown’s 50 years of teaching at Emerson College.
Donning a New York Yankees cap with his wife, Zita Cousens, next to him, Brown, assistant professor of Journalism, listened as one person after the next told adulatory stories of how his teaching influenced generations of students.
Brown’s classes often started at 8:00 am – and it was worth getting up for, noted several students. At the start of the semester, Brown told students his class was going to be tough, and students confirmed it was one of the hardest. But they relished his encouragement of critical and independent thinking.
“You recognized my passion for civil rights as a calling, and because of you, I get to help people by toeing the line between government powers and individual rights,” said Lana Cucchiella ’06. “I know that my successes are your successes.”
President Lee Pelton calculated that Brown has worked at Emerson for 35 percent of the College’s entire existence. He said alumni routinely name Brown as their favorite professor. He paraphrased a Henry Adams quote – that teachers affect eternity because they never know where their influence will end – and that is certainly true of Brown.
Pelton also recalled what his daughter said about having Brown as a professor when she attended Emerson.
“You had pushed her to do her very best work, and [she said that] you would take that as the greatest compliment one could give you,” said Pelton. “You were tough and tough-minded, and she was, remains, grateful for your making her to achieve at her highest levels.”
A 15-minute tribute video featuring former students, staff and faculty, congratulating Brown was shared.
On the video, retiring colleague Thomas Cooper, Visual & Media Arts professor, who’s worked at Emerson for only 38 years, invited Brown to Hawaii, where he’s retiring. Cooper joked that his students would tease him, saying that Brown was a better teacher, and that maybe one day Cooper would be as good as Brown.
Jabari Asim, associate professor of Writing, Literature and Publishing, said that whenever a new faculty member approaches him, asking how to be a successful faculty member, he tells them what he knows, and added very important wisdom, “You know who you really need to talk to? You need to talk to Mike Brown. He always responds with generosity and prudent advice.”
Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sam Presti ’00, who gave an initial gift to create the Mike Brown Scholarship Fund, spoke of his reverence for Brown. The scholarship will support incoming students from historically underserved and underrepresented backgrounds with financial need.
After the video, Brown, overwhelmed and choked up, told the story of how he became a professor at Emerson. He didn’t know what he wanted to do, and thought he’d eventually be drafted. He applied for a job at Emerson and got it.
“Maybe the first 25 years was a lot of dumb luck and I was having fun,” said Brown. “The last 25 years have been even better.”
He said he’s resigned himself to not stop teaching due to COVID, and that he misses the classroom, hearing people laugh, get angry, and talking.
“None of you are going to put any money in my pocket,” said Brown. “But I want to be able to say I taught him, I taught her. I taught Lana. I taught Sam. I taught Mark, I taught David, I taught Satch. I taught Nanci. And that means so very, very much to me. And thank you all so very, very much.