Quintessential Kenyon: Student Life, Uncut

In Memory of Professor Olshanskaya

Phillip Gray Clark
January 24, 2016

This past Wednesday, my advisor passed away. Professor Natalia Olshanskaya, the head of Kenyon’s Russian department, had been fighting a battle against ALS since she was diagnosed last March. Professor meant so much to the Russian department, to the Kenyon community and to me. I still vividly remember the first time I met her, walking into Intensive Intro Russian. Her first question for all of us was why we wanted to study such a complex language. That is when I first realized something about Professor. She was someone who took a vested interest in all our lives. I can’t even begin to list the number of times I found myself in her office, getting advice on what to do with my life, what to do after graduation and what I wanted to become.

During spring break my first year, after having a nasty run-in with a parasite and missing a few weeks of school, she met with me and asked first not, “When will you do all your makeup work?” but “How can I help you? Let me know what I need to do for you.” Professor was one of the most caring people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and she inspired students to truly excel. If I ever turned in an assignment for which I obviously hadn’t tried my hardest, she would firmly lecture me about how I could do better. One of my favorite examples of this was when I completely forgot about a quiz, and instead of grading my conglomeration of guesses, she just wrote a giant question mark over the page. This was the type of person Professor was — someone who would only accept your best and wasn’t afraid to call you out if you didn’t give your all. 

Professor is the person who inspired me to study Russian. I originally planned to take Arabic at Kenyon but through my own scheduling error ended up in a Russian class. I decided I’d stick out the semester and then end my Russian studies. Two and a half years later I am majoring in Russian and just returned from a semester in St. Petersburg.

Losing Professor Olshanskaya was like losing my mom here at Kenyon. When I called my mother to deliver the news, even she took it horribly. Professor had kindly invited my parents over to dinner a few times my sophomore year. She and my mom even found a favorite common author and shipped each other their favorite books.

These few words don’t even begin to encapsulate the woman that Professor Olshanskaya was. Her love of her craft, her students and Kenyon was clear to me from the moment I met her. The joy she inspired in her students and the relationship I had with Professor makes this passing so hard. По вам будут скучать.