By Tanya Haye, Douglas College Communications instructor
In the Fall of 2012, I had one of the most delightful, eclectic classes at Douglas College: a night public speaking class, CMNS 1125. I had approached that class feeling ambivalent, yet hopeful. Hoping for participation from tired students, hoping for interest in the course content, hoping for a sense of community among classmates, and hoping for patience with each other. At the end of the semester, I got that and more. I came away with an indelible mark that those students imprinted on me because of their lives and their stories. They were all memorable, but I will highlight only one student: the late Jordan Kornberger.
Jordan Kornberger was the guy who loved baseball and used every speech opportunity to show us just how much he loved the game. Everyone in that class knew it. He lived, breathed, and dreamed baseball.
In the very first class when students had to give self-introductions, he introduced himself with his baseball glove. I had asked students to introduce themselves by defining who they were, and he introduced himself saying, “I f***ing love baseball!” With that, all heads spun around to look at me. I stared at him incredulously. He stared back at me in feigned innocence. Then I commented dryly, “You love it that much, huh?” He smiled and nodded. I stared at him for a few seconds, then figured I’d make the F-bomb slip, but put a written reminder about language in the first assignment. (Come on. I had to!)
So, by the end of the first class, we all knew he was the baseball guy. What we didn’t realize, though, was just how much he loved baseball. This became evident because for every speech assignment, he found a way to work in his passion for baseball. He spoke about teamwork—in baseball; friendships—through baseball; and racism—in baseball.Through him, we learned about Reggie Jackson, the former baseball player who was one of the first to break the colour barrier in baseball. You never had to guess what Jordan’s prepared speeches would be about. You just knew: baseball.
He even found a way to talk about baseball for the unprepared speech—the impromptu speech. For impromptu speeches, students pick an arbitrary word from a pile of folded pieces of paper, each folded paper bearing only one word, which would be central to their unrehearsed, unprepared three-minute speech. Jordan was fortunate enough to pick the work ‘breakfast’ and, needless to say, his speech was about the necessity of eating a healthy breakfast with lots of protein, which he said was essential for baseball practice. Again, baseball.
His final speech which stands out for me was about success and being willing to sacrifice to have success. He had had a shoulder injury, so he couldn’t stay for the last class, but recorded it for me, and uploaded it to YouTube for me to evaluate it. The quote he mentioned, which he said he had always liked reading, says: “It’s not what you’re willing to do that will make you successful; it’s what you’re willing to do without until you get there.” After listening to it, I was struck by how focussed he was and I remember thinking: When this guy makes it as a pro in 10 years, I’m going to boast that I taught him, and I’m going to ask him to come back to one of my classes and motivate my students to find their passion and work hard to achieve their goals.
Last week his friends came to class with the sad news that Jordan died over the weekend. It took me most of that day to process that information. Jordan was so vibrant that it was very difficult to imagine him gone. But after a while it occurred to me that his life was an example of the customary trite expression: gone but not forgotten.
Even though I taught him two years ago, I had never forgotten him. I’ve been teaching for 25 years, and I can’t claim to remember every past student. I can’t even claim to remember most. I rarely remember their names when I run into students after the semester finishes, though I usually don’t forget their faces. But that may be the extent of my memory—the familiar face. But I have always remembered Jordan. Plus I couldn’t help but remember him because, in our last class, he had told me he’d encouraged some of his friends to register for my speech class the following semester. And sure enough, the following semester four of his baseball friends took the class. Then some others the following semester. And this semester I have three more of his friends in my speech class. This suggests that he had a “voice.” This suggests that his opinion was valued. This suggests that his friends trusted him. Though quite reserved in class unless he was giving a speech, he was obviously a leader. His word mattered.
So, once I heard about his death, I thought it only fitting to give a speech to my current public speaking class about this memorable class and Jordan Kornberger. It was fitting because they needed a demonstration. I had been demanding more dynamic attention grabbers, more dramatic pauses, and more memorable endings from students’ speeches in the previous week and they had, in turn, “demanded” that I do a speech to demonstrate what I was looking for.
And so I did.
As soon as I had composed myself after the news I scribbled down a speech, and I tried to think about how I wanted the speech to end. For me, attention grabbers at the beginning of the speech tend to not be as challenging to create as the clincher at the end. But, the more I thought about it and the more I tried to unravel the essence of what I wanted to be central in that speech, the more I realized that the most obvious thing about that night public speaking class and Jordan was that they were memorable. That’s it. They were a memorable class. In general, they were passionate about life and they were—unforgettable. And their speeches underscored this.
Without even realizing it, these students’ stories impacted my life and reminded me about various life lessons. One memorable student taught me about the importance of being true to your identity. This message was packaged in the form of one of the brilliant accounting students in that class. He was a Sikh who told us the story of his love for his religion.
Another memorable student was a theatre student who enthralled us as she introduced us to Cosplay and their costumes. (I was relieved to not be the only one who hadn’t heard the word Cosplay before.) Her story broke down a few barriers in the class and reinforced the message of tolerance.
Then there was the stunning blonde who had the Botox-like lips and a huge tongue ring, which glistened and clicked when she spoke. She invited us within the walls of her soul and shared her mother’s slow battle with a fatal disease. Her story resonated with all of us as she, unknowingly, connected us with the common experience of loss, pain, and grief.
And there was the African-American guy with the four unpronounceable names. After every speech he left us hungry for more, and he mesmerized us. During his speeches, as he jumped and pranced, rhymed and reasoned, extolled and exalted, we ascended the mountain top, to overlook the land flowing with milk and honey before he left us in the valley—tired, thirsty, and hungry—where we tried to recuperate. It was supposed to have been a simple speech, but the speech became a call for excellence.
And then, there was Jordan’s message. Jordan’s story, in particular, impacted my life and reminded me about the necessity of finding a passion and pursuing it. His message was crystal clear: go after your passion and never give up. Even in his death, I am reminded about his message.
And so, as I prepared the speech for my class, I felt it necessary to remind my current students that in life and in death, we should be aware of the impact our lives can, unknowingly, have on people. And that was how I ended the speech: remember the impact your life can have on the people around you and the world.
I know Jordan Kornberger touched the lives of the people who met him. And I hope that after the sorrow, his loved ones will celebrate what he meant to them and how much his life impacted them positively. As I wear the green wristband that the Sports Department has issued in memory of him, I do so even though I know it’s not the wristband that will remind me of him. It was his life. His life impacted mine, and that is what I will remember. His message. His passion. His life.
Rest in peace, Jordan. Be at peace.