Wednesday, September 14, 2016

And He Laughed: A Tribute to John Stratton

By Jenny (Valko) Mercer, class of 2007, Integrated Language Arts major

When I saw on social media that Dr. Stratton had passed away, I audibly gasped, and my heart broke. My favorite professor, advisor, a man whom I admired and adored, was gone. I took Dr. Stratton for second semester freshman composition because it was an open section. That small decision made a significant impact on the rest of my time at AU. He gave me my first C ever on the first paper. I ended up in his office in tears. It was during that conversation he looked at me and asked why I was crying, because he knew it was more than that paper. He somehow saw into my heart in that conversation; and I told him the truth. My father had been diagnosed with cancer over that Christmas break and I wrote that paper the week before his surgery to remove the tumor. 

Was my paper bad? Yes, and I deserved the C. My writing was not up to his standards and I certainly didn't think the way he expected. It was during that conversation he explained that an essay should be like spinning a spider web; each idea had to be spun together to make a web. Who else would explain an essay like that, except for Dr. Stratton? My writing wasn't good enough, but my emotional state made it worse. But he listened to me that day in his office. And made me laugh. And I saw who he was in so many ways in that conversation. He truly listened and made me feel better about my dad. Then, he helped me to become a better writer and thinker in that conversation, and in all of the classes I had with him after that. In every class, Dr. Stratton challenged my ways of thinking and writing, and made me laugh through it all. Beyond that, he always remembered that first conversation in his office. He often asked in his own way how my dad was doing, and how I was really doing. He cared to ask, but cared even more to listen to the response.

I'm not sure one could explain him as a professor, unless you had sat in his classes. He was eccentric, quirky, full of wit and humor, while being passionate and sincere. Dr. Stratton made us students see things differently, and he certainly pushed us all outside of our comfort zones and little boxes. But so much of how he taught us, myself in particularly, to understand how to think and write, and analyze Shakespeare, I find myself sharing and using to teach my high school students the same things.

After taking several of his classes, it was clear that he wasn't just admired and adored by me, but by pretty much every other student. At some point during those four years, we nicknamed him Strattypants. I'm not sure why, and it was out of love, even though it probably sounds disrespectful. We never called him that to his face. We heard that a student after we graduated called him that to his face; I can only hope he knew it was out of admiration. And I hope that he laughed.

We all tried to take his classes as often as possible. Even now, my social media feed can attest to that as several AU alumni shared their sadness in Dr. Stratton's passing, but also rejoicing and celebrating the memories and lessons we learned from him. I can only hope that before he passed away, he knew how much we admired and adored him, and his Birkenstock sandals with socks.