Remembering a Mentor
Senior Compass Series
This past week, I learned of the heartbreaking passing of a beloved professor and mentor: Marc Chernick. He was best known for his work on the Colombian peace process, a subject I stumbled into and developed a passion for during my time at Georgetown University.
The first time I met him was in Bogotá, Colombia, where I interned this past summer. I visited his class at the University of Los Andes with a friend and tried my best to follow along with the rapid-fire Spanish. I missed at least half of the material
discussed, but I was fascinated nonetheless. After that week, I returned to class several more times and chatted one on one with professor Chernick. Eventually, I conducted research for him on the implementation of the Colombian peace accords as a part of the Latin America Initiative.
While researching my thesis, every person I spoke to about Colombia knew professor Chernick. His name was a key that unlocked their interest, and the praise that followed was always profuse. I used to skip another class just to listen to his stories and look at old pictures from his time spent in the field. Since he first visited Colombia in the 1980s to write his dissertation, he watched attempts at peace fail time and time again. Still, he had an abiding faith that true peace could be realized; over the past four years, his analysis of the conflict helped create the shaky start to a lasting peace that now exists.
In addition to his intelligence and expertise, professor Chernick was known for his quiet sense of joy. He stood firm in his beliefs yet was always ready to teach, debate and discuss. Last semester, I took his small seminar, “Violence and Political Change in the Andes.” My classmates and I might have been a little out of our depth subject-wise, but we all persisted. What I remember most, despite our struggles, was his laugh. Even when the technology broke, or students fell asleep or the weather was bad, professor Chernick was happy to be in class, talking about a topic he loved.
His passing has given me time to think about the influence he had on my life, how he inspired my interest in peace processes and justice and how one of my greatest failures during my time at college has been overlooking the contributions of Georgetown faculty and staff.
Though I consider my friends and family to be the center of my world, faculty and administrators have provided the deepest guidance and understanding over my last four years.
My professors are the people who have made me a stronger writer and a better person, who sacrifice numerous hours a week to be thesis advisers and serve as stand-in counselors when students like myself cry about our personal problems — though they do not get paid any extra. My professors have held class outside and canceled quizzes — because mental health is important too. They have let me skip work because I am stressed or walked me line by line through a paper I failed. They are the people who share stories about their backgrounds and open up their homes for dinners. And, above all, my professors are the people who embody the ideals of a Jesuit education, who try to shape Georgetown students into men and women for others.
As I reflect on the last four years, I do so with a long-overdue recognition of my failure to appreciate the influence of the truly wonderful professors. The professors have repeatedly called on me to make the world a better place and to answer questions of justice, inequality and human suffering—a calling that I hope I live up to.
To Diana Kapiszewski, Anna Steinhelper, You-Me Park, Matthew Carnes, Charles King, Sara Collina, Mei-Ling Klein and many more who were an essential part of my Georgetown education, thank you.
I write in memory of professor Marc Chernick, a mentor who truly believed in the enduring possibility of peace and the burning power of justice.
Susannah Dibble is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. This is the fourth installment in the Senior Compass Series.