Senior Oration Finalist – Michael Dempsey (’14)

The Daily Deac is running some of the Senior Oration finalists in the coming days and weeks.  The three orations read at Founders’ Day Convocation were featured on the Wake Forest News website.

Today we invite you to enjoy “The Unspoken ‘Thank You’” by Michael Dempsey (’14).


When I was a freshman, I took a First Year Seminar called, “Image of Poverty and Wealth in the U.S.” Having just arrived to Wake Forest, I had the quixotic notion that I would take this class to gain a greater understanding of economic theory in order to bolster my background knowledge for my inevitable business major. After almost four years at Wake Forest, I can honestly say that I have never been in a harder class. To give you an idea of the difficulty of this class, our professor assigned us to read the entirety of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Diamond as Big as the Ritz in a week. Each student had a five page essay due every Wednesday, and our class was also assigned a group project due at the end of the semester on how we would solve the poverty crisis in the U.S. Needless to say, my classmates and I had a very stressful first semester of freshman year.

At the end of the semester on the final exam date, after our professor passed out our Blue Books, he walked to the front of the classroom and began to talk about how our First Year Seminar was to be his last class at Wake Forest. When we heard this, a hush swept over the classroom. He continued by saying that he had never taught a class as diligent and committed as ours, and that he was going to miss us immensely. Then, he began to cry. After a few moments, with tears still in his eyes, he pointed to the Krispy Kreme doughnut boxes on one of the tables and said, “For you, if you need find yourself in need of sustenance while you battle this exam.” And then, with as little pomp and circumstance as possible, he slipped out of the classroom, and I never saw him again.

I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had just seen. So, after my exam, I sent him an email that I still have today and would like to share with you. I said:

I just wanted to let you know that I am proud to be one of your students, and I thank you so much for being a role model.

Simple, concise, and all that I was capable of sharing with him as a nebbish freshman. He responded the next day, and I would like to share his response as well. He said:

Thank you very much. Such a response is why we teach. I look forward to hearing of great and worthwhile things from you.

So, here I am: a senior about to leave Wake Forest with great dreams and illusions like everybody else in my class. I’ve had an incredible experience here, but there are still a lot of things that I want to do with my life as is the case with every graduating senior. Our real stories have yet been told, and they will begin after we receive our diplomas on that either blisteringly hot or tempestuously flooded day in May. But, there is one thing I want to do right now in honor of my teacher. I would like to elaborate on that first email I sent to him almost four years ago because I think he might be interested to know how one of his former students is doing. A former student who was absolutely petrified when he had to give a speech in class defending the robber baron, Jay Gould. A former student who eventually got over his nervousness to speak in front of a class and would then perform in 12 theatre productions at Wake Forest. A former student who never did become a business major and instead chose to major in English because he enjoyed reading and writing so much in his First Year Seminar. A former student who never fully said “thank you.” So here it goes:


Dear Professor,

I just wanted to let you know that I am proud to be one of your students, and I thank you so much for being a role model. A lot has changed since we last spoke, and I’m sorry that we haven’t really had the opportunity to speak with each other since our class four years ago. But, I think you would be happy to know that I have done exactly what you told our class to do while at this University: to experience. I can honestly say that the main thing I have done for the past four years here can be summed up in your words, “to experience.” I have experienced the exuberance of life at this school, and it’s hard to believe that in just a few months I’ll be gone from here. But, I just wanted to let you know that the student you taught years ago is not quite the same, and I have you and many others to thank for it. I recently learned that you worked graciously with this University for 45 years, and I want to say that seeing your service in action is something that inspired me and my classmates to do so many things for this school. So, you should know that you to know that you made a bigger impact on me than you could’ve possibly known. Actually, now that I think about it, I think you did know. I think you did know that our class needed to experience life in both triumph and tragedy in order to truly become a part of this University, and subsequently, world. You did know, and for imparting such integrity and scholarship to a class of 20 nervous freshmen, I hope this speech in your honor expresses my eternal gratitude. I wouldn’t be here without people like you. Thank you.

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