My first week as assistant professor at the University of South Florida… so much paperwork, so little time, so many things to do! Twenty-two of us in the Department of Political Science and only two administrative assistants! It was the first day of class, my first day of teaching ever, and I could not find anything–chalk, duster, syllabus, classroom–nothing was in any obvious place or logical order. I was too timid and shy to speak over other voices (yes, you read it right… timid and shy), but someone noticed that I needed help.
Delores, the departmental assistant, removed a big pile of papers from an otherwise empty chair, making room for me, and asked me to sit down. “You need to speak up, Dr. Khator. How am I supposed to know what you need? Let me walk you over to your room.” From then on, Delores took a special interest in me… she would always anticipate what I needed, but she let me ask for it. She would often tell me that I was so special, that I was so blessed, and that I was a breath of fresh air in the department. She would gently (with motherly love) correct my pronunciation, tell me that I needed to eat more, and even told me once that my skirt was a little too short for the office.
Delores–full of warmth, grace and affection–was my first introduction to African-Americans. Her heart was big and her face radiant with positive energy. She would talk about the extensive breakfast she cooked every morning for her family, because she believed in beginning the day by giving all the love that she had.
I often think that if it had not been for Delores, would I have gained the same level of self-confidence that I have today? Would I have developed the relentless drive for many causes, such as student success?
Delores saw me grow and advance in my career during the ten years that I taught in the department before joining the administration. I was there to salute her on her retirement, just as were 400 other people. I was not the only one she treated specially, but she surely made me feel that way. Today, she lives a retired life in Georgia with her two daughters and husband. For me, she has always remained just one click away, still lifting my spirits, still reminding me of my inner strength.
To Delores and all department administrative assistants and secretaries everywhere–thank you. Thank you for supporting and guiding the faculty. You make the world a special place!