Before I was at all experienced with the conference scene, I decided to attend SUNY Oneonta’s 15th Annual Undergraduate Philosophy Conference last year. Let me tell you, I received so much more from that weekend than I had ever anticipated.
My arrival the night before the conference was met with warm greetings of the hard-working conference committee, students of Oneonta, and other participants from all over the nation. The most memorable experience of that night, however, was meeting Barbara Shrader and instantly feeling like we’d known each other for years after she went right from introducing herself as Dr. Douglas Shrader’s wife, to going into a story about how her cat gave birth to a number of kittens that Barbara had been taking care of. The following two days were filled with not only Barbara’s welcoming presence, but her husband’s as well, who led the awards dinner on the closing night of the conference. To begin the ceremony, Dr. Shrader had explained that a number of years ago some of his students attended a conference elsewhere and wanted to start their own, so he and some of his colleagues pulled out the change from their pockets and did just that. Fifteen years later, the conference still ran strong and brought together young philosophers from all over the world, establishing everlasting relationships and inspiring them to continue to do what they love. My most memorable experience with Dr. Shrader, though, was when we found ourselves standing in the same corner in the lobby and entered conversation, with me expressing to him my concerns about entering graduate school in the fall. I told him that I didn’t have as broad a knowledge as some of the other students, but I had been doing numerous independent studies and closely reading specific texts with a few of my professors. Smiling in a way that could make anyone forget their worries, he explained that those independent studies were not only one of the best ways to prepare me for graduate school, but once I picked up my summer reading I would see how easily a close and critical reading of the texts would come, allowing me to understand a wide array of theories in a faster amount of time. Essentially, he made me realize that I wasn’t lacking in my studies - I simply had a different foundation. ‘Lo and behold, that summer was one of the most productive and fulfilling summers I’d ever had, giving me the confidence to enter graduate school with my chin up and readiness to take on the world.
Needless to say, I was deeply sorry to hear of his unexpected passing last July. Although I had only spent a small amount of time knowing him, his influence is and will be timeless, which was more than evident during Oneonta’s 16th annual conference that was held this weekend.
I was very pleased to hear that Oneonta started a “Conference Alumni” panel (two, actually), which gave me the opportunity to submit a paper and be involved in the incredible spectacle that the philosophy department and students put together. It was an intellectually stimulating weekend of seeing old friends, making new ones, and hearing the incredible work of undergraduate students from all over North America. As was mentioned throughout the event, however, it was a bittersweet experience for the faculty, students, Barbara, and anyone else who knew Dr. Shrader. The displayed and felt emotion during the speeches mentioning Dr. Shrader elicited an immense sorrow and joy in those closest to him, and greatly inspired both those who knew him and those who did not.
During a memorial following dinner on Saturday, a group of us stood around the garden that was initially planted for Dr. Roda, another professor who had recently passed, and in the middle laid a plaque engraved with John Dewey’s words: “Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” After hearing Barbara, Dr. Malhotra, Dr. Koch, and the students who were lucky enough to take classes with him offer their wonderful memories of Dr. Shrader, the quote (which Dr. Shrader had picked out) couldn’t have been more appropriate. One word permeated throughout all of the memories spoken, which was Dr. Shrader’s humanity, and the classroom was his medium for enabling individual creativity and cohesive camaraderie. No matter the situation mentioned, his warmth and compassion were never absent, making his students feel comfortable with themselves and one another, and helping them get through some of the hardest times they had had to deal with.
After leaving the conference, one could not walk away without feeling overwhelmingly inspired. To see how close the faculty and students were with each other, how influential Dr. Shrader still is in each of the lives he touched, and all of the incredible events put into motion due to his cause, really makes one aware of their priorities and draws forth a desire to further perpetuate the significance that Dr. Shrader will never stop having, which is why this is being posted in the blog it is. When Dr. Perring and I were discussing ways to contribute to the philosophical community last spring, I immediately thought of Oneonta’s philosophy conference and suggested that we start one at Dowling as well. Without Dr. Shrader, his colleagues, and his students, the Dowling College Undergraduate Philosophy Conference wouldn’t have come to be when it did. Now we’re already planning for next year’s event, and we hope to have many more to come.
With that, I would like to say thank you, Dr. Shrader; your influence will forever be preserved, and your memory will not soon be forgotten.