A colleague is not always synonymous with a friend. Unless you were Lily Chang. In all my years in academia, watching new professors struggle up the ranks in a dog-eat-dog Thunderdome-style brawl, I have never seen someone come out on top so unscathed.
Everyone loved Lily. Her colleagues, her TAs, and her students were all enraptured by her brilliant mind. As I can see here today, there is a huge crowd of those whose lives were touched by her passion, her ideals, and her 160-page thesis on gender dysphoria as represented in early aboriginal folklore and art. Was that last one just me? I read it a lot. It was brilliant. As her advisor, I was impressed by her dedication and her analytical mind. As her colleague, I was moved by her empathy and her precision.
When Lily was a teaching assistant in my program, kindness was her first priority. She had lists everywhere, and on every one was a kindness. The proper way to pronounce a student's name, questionnaires about preferred pronouns and trauma support, notes on how to conduct a fair and equitable discussion along cultural, religious and political borders. Everyone was worthy of her consideration, her compassion.
Then again, Lily was also a professor, and a good one. She had no time for people who were only interested in the bare minimum. After catching a student cutting class to attend a concert, she sent him an email with lyrics from the band that she had changed: "You don't get a-nother exten-sion." Kind but sharp, funny and fair. That was Lily.
I would be remiss without speaking of the work that Lily also did, not just with changing her students' lives but with reinventing the folklore department at JM University. Her fieldwork recording the oral traditions of the Northern Paiute tribe in southeastern Oregon was thoughtful, thorough, and extraordinarily deep. I know that many of you read her book, On Tabuts and Terror, and the way it blended folklore with history was masterful. It is a deep and profound loss to lose a mind as rich and keen as hers.
There are so many ways to consider a legacy with someone like Lily. Her work has its place in the echelons of history, but a more important legacy, I believe, is the one gathered here today. The students, friends, family, and faculty who were touched by her spirit, by her unique and enviable way of teaching and supporting and helping others. Someone who could be a colleague, a mentor, a student, and yet somehow-always-a friend.
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