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Remembering John Cawthorne
Bidding a dean adieu
Lynch school students, faculty, and alumni bid fond farewells to associate dean John Cawthorne, who retired last spring after 13 years. Some 150 students and alumni turned out for a festive, student-organized send-off reception April 29 in the Murray Room in the Yawkey Center. And a crowd of more than 200 packed Fulton 511 on May 4 for Cawthorne’s “last lecture”—where Cawthorne began his remarks by pointing out that he’d never delivered a formal lecture at Boston College before.
A Harvard graduate, school consultant, and former director of education for the National Urban League, Cawthorne came to Boston College in 1988 as a senior research associate who studied testing, evaluation, and educational policy. He was named associate dean in 1997.
Several students spoke and others paid informal tribute to the outgoing dean at the farewell gathering. Some of what they said is excerpted here.
I tried earlier to make a list of words I would use to characterize John. “Mentor” was one of the first. “Father” was second, and another was “feminist.” But the words that are inseparable from John Cawthorne are “student advocate.” That is how we think of him, and what separates him from anyone else on campus—and what brings him closer to our hearts.
One of my favorite memories of John: On the first day of orientation, I walked into the big theater at McGuinn 121, and sat down before the program started. And I asked John what the easiest way to transfer out of the Lynch School of Education would be. And he simply looked at me with a blank stare, like he normally does, and goes, “You won’t want to.” And five years later, John is my mentor. He’s definitely influenced my passion to want to go into a higher education institution, and be the dean that he is and was for me.
—Bryan Ramos ’10, M.Ed.’11
The first thing John said to any of us was to never refer to him as Dean Cawthorne or Dean or Mr. Cawthorne. He would not respond. So we’ve always called him John. And his first piece of advice was to find an adult at Boston College, someone who could be your mentor and help you out. And for me—and for countless other people—John has become that person.
John has instilled in us a sense of agency—so that we were able to form a relationship with a special adult who could guide us when we needed it—and helped us to recognize when in fact we needed to reach out for some direction. He has instilled in us a sense of confidence that we do deserve to be successful and that we do deserve to have such a wonderful person in our lives.
—Robyn Antonucci ’11
I never had John as a teacher. I had him as a mentor. I met John when I was first at B.C. I was a little lost soul. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Somehow, somewhere along the line someone said, “Why don’t you go talk to John Cawthorne?” From that point on, he was always willing to make time for me. He always asked questions. He never really gave us answers.
Now I teach mathematics. And I hope I can be the someone in my students’ lives that they can come to and have a discussion—not necessarily to give my opinion, but just to guide them through it by questioning. That’s the best thing I can do. And I learned that from John.
—Andrea Lagala ’07, M.Ed.’08
I thought I wanted to study law. Everyone expected me to go into this one profession. John was the first person who said, “Wait, hold on. Time out. Really think about this and really think about your experiences.” A couple of weeks later, I was in front of a classroom. I don’t know if I would have been there without John.
John helped me to find a teaching placement in a high school in South Africa, where I ended up teaching full-time for a month. I must have Skyped John 12 times. John really empowered me to know that I could do it—that I could teach on my own. John was there every step of the way.
I still go to him with questions, and he doesn’t give me answers. He gives me questions back. And that’s what I try to do with my students. And it’s brilliant. And it’s empowering. It teaches students self-efficacy and allows them to realize they have the answers themselves. When I’m standing in front of a classroom and a student provides a great answer, I find myself trying to do what John has done for me my entire academic career.
—Matthew Mccluskey ’11, M.Ed.’12
John inspires focus. He inspires positive thinking in a big and competitive place, Boston College, where a lot of people might not feel like they’re at the top of the list. And he’ll make you feel that way. He’ll make you feel like you can accomplish anything and can achieve anything you put your mind to if you work hard at it.
—Bryan Murray ’12
John gave me the confidence to stick with education. I was kind of unsure of myself as a freshman. Taking his class really helped me feel confident in my ability to teach and get excited about the fact that teaching is more than a profession—it’s a vocation. He also taught me that learning is a social activity. And he helped me learn that my biggest strengths are my interpersonal skills and my outgoingness and ability to be social.
That triggered in me a confidence that I could be a good teacher one day. It’s because of John that I feel that I have a passion for teaching and a passion for history, and I can make the two work into something that I’m going to be proud doing.
—Greg Manne ’12
I recently got a job at Harlem Success Academy in New York City, which is one of the major charter schools in New York City, a part of the Harlem Children’s Zone movement started by Geoffrey Canada. I heard about this project first during a class John taught my sophomore year, “Family, School, and Society.”
When senior year came, I sent my application in, mostly on a whim. And then they actually called. And I said to John, “Me? Harlem?” And he said, “Kristen, why not?” He has always encouraged me to go further. He said you could always find a way to do what you want and get what you want and be the person you want to be. John is a dean. It’s such a heavy title. Yet he connects to his students on a deep level. And he knows all his undergraduates’ first names.
—Kristen Barry ’11
One life lesson that John has taught me is patience—knowing that, if one route doesn’t go my way, there are going to be plenty of other opportunities. You just have to be adamant about using your resources well, getting out there, searching, finding them, and making your path for yourself.
I work in John’s office. And one thing I have seen is that John’s a very loving and caring person. He leads through example.He would never tell you to do something if it’s something that he wouldn’t do himself. So it’s easy to want to follow him and know that he has your best interests in mind.
When I met John, I told him therapy was my passion, and that I really wanted to help people through this practice. That’s what I wanted to do. He told me human development is definitely something that I might want to look into, because it’s about developing people and knowing the psychology and how they develop and grow. And, thanks to him, I’m very happy and very excited about the route I’m going. I’m going to be starting grad school at Boston College in the mental health counseling program. And none of that would have happened if I hadn’t met John.
—Brandy Norton ’11