Dr. John Gallagher gives final lecture after 24-year career

“Not ruling anything out, not penciling anything in,” is Dr. John Gallagher’s retirement plan. After 24 years with Maryville College, he says he’s ready. Though he has no doubts about his decision, he described the feeling as “bittersweet,” as he leaves behind him many memories and many friendships. He looks at these mixed emotions as “measures of how worthwhile this has all been.” 

When asked what brought him to a career in academia, Dr. Gallagher replied, “There’s no better place to be.” College, he said, is a “place where everyone feels respected, and I value that a lot.” Asked to recall what the most rewarding part of teaching at Maryville College has been, Gallagher listed community belonging, his colleagues, and his students. The most challenging part of teaching, he answered quite definitively, is grading. On the one hand, the professor’s job is to ensure correctness but when grading more creative pieces, it can be a challenge to balance critique and affirmation. 

Originally from Connecticut, Dr. Gallagher earned his bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Boston College, before beginning a twenty-year career in business. His work brought him to Knoxville, TN in 1982, and he returned to college in 1994, enrolling at the University of Tennessee with ambitions to teach. 

While working on his degree, Dr. Gallagher would bring his daughter to Maryville College on Saturday mornings to attend the Van Metre School of Dance, located at the time in Fayerweather Hall. During her lessons, he would explore the campus, and it came to be very familiar to him. He graduated with a Master’s in Business and Accounting and a Ph.D. in Strategic Management, just as a teaching position in his field opened at Maryville College. He called it “serendipity.” 

Twenty-four years later, on Thursday, April 14, 2022, Dr. Gallagher gave his final lecture. Taking the stage, he described the feeling as “strange” and “surreal.” He said he felt nervous, having never lectured from a stage before, but there was no need. The audience was won over immediately by his charm and genuineness, not to mention the cutest collection of great-grandchildren photos ever to grace Lambert Recital Hall. 

The lecture, “Things Not Yet Said”, was not as mysterious as it sounded, said Gallagher, but rather quite “pedestrian.” Over the years at Maryville College, teaching mostly catalog classes, there were important things he had never found the right place to say. 

Drawing attention to Maryville College’s Mission Statement, Dr. Gallagher said, “What we do here is an exercise of hope.” The mission statement implies that we aren’t born with the skills Maryville College tries to teach, and that a life worth living is a life of creativity and service. Not only do these make for a good life, but they are for a purpose, to be used to enrich the lives of others. 

Gallagher said these goals should act as a “touchstone” from which administrators and students can evaluate new courses, programs, and clubs. They may ask themselves: how do these changes nurture a life of creativity and service? 

Maryville College’s Mission Statement embodies the liberal arts ethos, he said, and affirms human capacity and dignity. Recalling his first lesson in the classroom, Dr. Gallagher asked the audience to consider their best and worst experiences with employers or as customers. The decisive factor that marked an experience as good or bad was whether or not someone was treated with dignity and respect. “Never forget,” he concluded, “we hold each other’s dignity in our hands, always.” 

Anything but pedestrian, the moving lecture earned a standing ovation. Thanking the crowd, Dr. Gallagher invited everyone to the Clayton Center for cake and hugs, where students and friends lined up for both. An embodiment of dignity and respect, Professor Gallagher will most assuredly be missed. 

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