Loving the Humanities and His Students

By John Sorenson

Remember the first time you sat in a very large class, probably during the first semester of your freshman year? For me it was 1982, Humanities 101, in the JKB theater with approximately 150 students. Among my thoughts that first day was, “Wow, there are a lot of people here for just one class, so either this is a very interesting and exciting elective, or it is one of those courses highly sought after because of the outstanding professor!” Both proved to be true as I met and learned from Donald R. Marshall.

I can still visualize that first day. Within 10 minutes of his opening presentation, Dr. Marshall said, “I am really looking forward to getting to know of all of you.” I glanced around at the vast audience with a slight bit of skepticism, but he quickly followed with, “Seriously, I am planning—if you will allow me—to take your photo, then memorize your name and face, and hopefully have the opportunity of getting to know every one of you personally.” I was not only stunned but deeply impressed. Furthermore, I soon learned that he wanted this kind of relationship with every student in every class, and it had been that way for years! Don loved the humanities, but every time he taught I had the feeling he loved his students equally, if not more.

Don’s approach to teaching made the humanities come alive in a way I didn’t think possible. He taught in such a way that you soon had a yearning to learn all you could about the world’s greatest composers, musicians, poets, painters, writers, architects, artists, and sculptors. When I watched Don teach, I felt he not only admired but truly cared about each person he taught us about. He made each come alive as if they were practically his personal friends. Through his gentle and passionate energy, he effectively and sweetly opened a vast world of art, literature, music, film, and culture to the lifelong appreciation of generations of students.

One important, lasting representation of his commitment was his leadership in the focused growth of BYU’s International Cinema. Don put in countless hours in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, traveling the world and creating connections to bring international films to BYU. This endeavor has resulted in the world’s largest and longest-running university foreign film program (see ic.byu.edu).

I believe Don worked so tirelessly on this program because he cared so much about the students in his classes. When I was in his class I felt he was teaching and sharing with me because he cared about me. Don closely followed the admonition in Mosiah 2:17 by kindly and sincerely inviting me and countless others into the fascinating world of the humanities.