A Farewell to Mr. Lynskey by Mr. David Ulloa
Before I even matriculated at Columbus, I was already familiar with the name John Lynskey. My uncle, an alumnus of the class of 1985, had already given me a list of teachers I had to take classes with if I wanted the “Columbus Experience.” Panzer, O’Brien, Dean, Foyo, Rams, Dowling, Culmo, Scholer, and, of course, Lynskey. John had been teaching at Columbus only a year when my uncle took his class, and yet he was already a legend. Columbus is funny that way – the students collect factoids and stories about our most legendary names and trade them like baseball cards. “Dude, have you heard about the Mongolian Heart Massage?” “Yeah, but have you heard about those assault golf balls?!”
By the time senior course selection came around, I was sure of only one class that I had to take for fear of my four-year career as a Columbus student being null and void: Foreign Policy, taught by John Lynskey. And as I shuffled into A-22 and was told to take any seat I wanted, I was prepared for anything. Expectations were high, impossibly high. But the crazy thing is I never once thought I would be let down. It’s a rare experience when something has been so hyped up over the course of so much time and yet still lives up to the experience. Like watching Casablanca so many years after its release. There’s no way that Bogart or Lynskey can live up to the hype, right? Except they do.
For one reason or another, I can recall facts and details about post-WWII and Cold War era history. It is almost as if the knowledge was Inceptioned into my brain, but it wasn’t Leo DiCaprio doing the Inceptioning, it was Mr. Lynskey. There was a magic about his classroom. But the magic was not contained by the four walls; it went wherever John went. Because it was in him. You wanted to be around him and soak up every drop of knowledge. We, the students, believed that his words contained some hidden power that would equate to increased awesomeness if enough of them were processed.
I had already started dating my later-to-be wife at this point and she was a college freshman. She wanted to see for herself who this amazing Mr. Lynskey was. So, she stopped by Br. Pat’s office where she said hello and they conversed about showtunes, and then waltzed up to Lynskey’s room – what a difference a few years make in school protocol. She knocked on the door and Lynskey said “Hi, can I help you?” to which she responded “Yes, I’m Ulloa’s girlfriend and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about because he and all his friends won’t shut up about your class.” So, he looked to the boy in the very first desk and said, “There’s a lady without a seat…offer her yours,” and she sat down.
When the class was over, she asked permission to come back regularly. You can say that Lynskey’s latest “I’m going to learn you some knowledge” sessions, Lunch and Learn, started with that. Because my wife did come back regularly. She’d bring a sub or a salad and sit and listen to Lynskey give his lesson on the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, or the Nixon/Kennedy debates, or the Tet Offensive. And it all seemed perfectly normal. His class seemingly had no rules, except that no one ever did anything but ask questions and learn. It was an atmosphere that was totally unique to his class. Columbus is filled to the brim with great teachers, and the most amazing deliver lessons in their own particular idiom. So, when I say that there was no place like Lynskey’s classroom, unfortunately those that never had opportunity to take his class will never understand.
But beyond the history I learned in his class, the life lessons are the ones that stick with me most. I learned how to develop a healthy curiosity and inquisitive mind. I learned how to question and doubt in just the right way. And I learned that what I really wanted to do after college was teach. It was something I had thought about after taking Mr. Panzer’s English class. “You know, after I retire from my real job, I should become a teacher,” I said to myself. But after spending as little as five minutes in Lynskey’s class I knew that it was the only career that would fulfill me. The way he made me feel about learning, the way he made me fall in love with it, it was no longer something that I simply enjoyed. No, now it was something I needed as sustenance for survival. And I wanted to help others feel that same way.
So it was that after receiving a degree in English – entirely thanks to my love of literature and analysis thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Panzer – I began teaching. And soon I found my way back to Columbus, as was my plan. But Lynskey was no longer teaching. He had just become Dean of Students. “What an incredible loss for the students in this school,” I thought to myself. But I quickly realized that this gave Lynskey an opportunity to interact not with six classes a day, but with the entire student body. Now, our boys had the chance to experience Lynskey from day one of freshman year. And soon his Lunch and Learn would give seniors the opportunity to continue to learn history and philosophy from him.
Which brings me to this morning. I was struck with utter disbelief as I read John’s announcement. He is the institution within the institution that is Christopher Columbus High School. But it isn’t a final farewell. Georgia is not so far away. And he follows a passion that has been ever present to any who has known him. In fact, it was he who first really introduced me to Duane Allman’s genius and the beauty of the harmonies that he and Dickey Betts created on their records. I should not feel anything other than pride that a fellow alumnus, teacher, coworker, and friend has succeeded in such an amazing way. However, selfishly, I am also saddened to see this same fellow alumnus, teacher, coworker, and friend leave.
There is no way to quantify how much John has taught me. The same, I’m sure, is true of any person that has had the privilege of having even one conversation with him. Conversely, there is no way to thank him for what he has taught me. Were it not for John Lynskey, my life may have gone down a different path. So, I will simply say that his spirit is alive in every classroom here. It will not die so long as those he taught continue to remember why they loved him and his class so much. But one thing is for sure: the halls of Columbus will never be the same.
Class of 2005