Memories of Jerry

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  -H.B. Adams

Jerome “Jerry” Durlak was a beloved teacher, father, husband, colleague and friend to people all around the world.

The first time I saw Jerome Durlak, I was quite confused.

I was entering my first seminar for a 4th year global communications class at York University, and Jerry was not the professor I’d been expecting.

He was not, to be honest, the professor I’d signed up for.

I’d been looking forward to studying with David Hogarth: a slim, handsome, greying man with sharp analytical skills and a sedate demeanor. Instead, there was Jerry: a plump older man with cherubic cheeks and oval-shaped glasses.

In contrast to Hogarth’s bullet point precision, Jerry preferred anecdote, informal discussion, and lessons that began, “that reminds me of a time in Costa Rica…”

I quickly warmed up to the latter style.

More often than he taught from the book, Jerry taught from his considerable life experiences. He could recount conversations he’d had with real people making real changes in the world, or recommend a good read or youtube video on just about any topic. His lessons were thoughtful and holistic, though nostalgic at turns.

I learned to ease up on the fervent note taking and actually listen… the way you listen to an old friend. Partial credit goes to Jerry’s smile, which seemed to say ‘serious learning can also be playful.’

Jerry was, after all, a serious and accomplished academic.

I didn’t know it at the time, but being in Jerry’s class last year was extremely special. It would turn out to be the last class he’d ever teach before becoming too sick to continue.

I still remember the day we recieved instructions on how to get to his new classroom–one hidden behind what seemed a never-ending series of doors. It was a room equipped with desk microphones for every student, and a smiling professor who continued to teach us from a gigantic screen.

Teleconferencing seemed strange at first, but Jerry quickly turned it into a class-appropriate discussion topic, not to mention an opportunity to show off his japanese robot collection.

Jerry touched his students profoundly. Many wrote to me after I sent along news of his death through our old email list.

Former student Mark Nabeta wrote, “Please pass on my sincere condolences to his family for all of us, and really try and relay to them how much we loved and respected the man. Not only as an academic, but as the the bravest and strongest man I have personally come to encounter in my short lifetime.”

Mark, and other students like Hailey Wojcik, made donations to One Laptop Per Child.

Another alumnus named Jester Lind packed his bags the second he heard of Jerry’s passing, and came to Toronto from Michigan to attend the memorial.

For my part, I’ve made a microloan to a young man in Costa Rica through Kiva, a microcredit organization that Jerry introduced to us in class.

This is all to say that our bright-eyed professor had the rare gift of getting cynical young people to not only think, but also to act.

Even now, he continues to teach by example.

There were no flowers at his memorial–instead there were donations to One Laptop Per Child. This is because Jerry dedicated his life to others. And we will are all, no doubt, better because he cared about us.

Photos courtesy of Meagan Durlak

Even in sickness, he maintained a healthy spirit

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn. ~John Cotton Dana


Jerry’s extracurricular reading list


2 thoughts on “Memories of Jerry

  1. Pingback: Sign here and you can go. « The Fab Files

  2. Thank-you for this post on Jerry. He was one of the best and most inspirational teachers, simply because he had a passion for his subject and passion for his students. He will truly be missed but his spirit lives on in each and every student who had the chance to grace his class.

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