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Northampton

      
Todd Van Beck's picture
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Last week I made a trip to Northampton Community College to give a couple of presentations to the area funeral directors.  The day was sponsored by the Mortuary Science Department at Northampton which is led and administered by the very able and capable headmaster John Lunsford.  I was very impressed by the events of the day, but for this particular writing I want to share extremely redeeming experience that I had during my sojourn to the great Keystone State.

Having spent a considerable amount of my career teaching I have formed changing opinions of students.  My opinions, over the years, have almost always been predicated on the maturity level, or lack thereof, of classes.  When I started out teaching in the early 1980s I found most of the classes were composed of students who had a level of maturity, and also who had a mission as to precisely what they were getting involved with in a career in funeral service.

As I have written in past articles devoted to mortuary education over the years it was my hard lot to discover that students were changing, and I concluded that they were not changing for the better, in fact I concluded that the future of our great profession based on my conclusions concerning students looked dim indeed.  This opinion was formed before I made my trip to Northampton.

The old saying goes that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, and I have often said that you “can’t teach an old undertaker new tricks,” but Lord knows I was wrong.  I was taught some new lessons.

Here is what I learned.  I had the good fortune of interacting with a score of mortuary science students from both Northampton, and Mercer County students from New Jersey who generously made the trip across the state line to hear my seminars.  I thank Rob Smith (headmaster of Mercer County) for his interest and organizational skills – Smith has always been one of my personal favorites.

My interaction with the Northampton student’s actually was predicated on the students own idea for a fund raiser for their fraternity.  Of all things these good students decided to sell, now get this friends, TVB’s CD which has all my management and outreach programs on it.  I said yes to the idea and freely sent John Lunsford a copy and he and the student’s made impressive cases for the CD, they set up a booth, they promoted the CD, and were very effective salespeople, because at the end of the day they sold $1,000 worth of the CDs and are planning to use the money raised for a charitable purpose. (What charity it was I have forgotten – but I am sure it is worthy.)

What I discovered in dealing with these fine students in the seminar and the CD project was several characteristics which made this old grumpy undertaker’s heart soar.  First of all they were all dressed impeccably.  Their dress was clearly consistent with the extremely conservative nature of funeral service, and not one of them, that I could see, was using the opportunity to make “a fashion statement.”  There also were no snooty “attitudes.”  The students were polite, all behaving as professional gentlemen and ladies, and they smiled, yes they actually were smiling, none of them looked like they had been sucking on lemons all day, and they conversed, they talked, they carried on conversations, they extended their hands in cordiality and hospitality, and they actually seemed to behave as if they truly enjoyed being mortuary science students.  I did not meet one cranky, grumpy, complaining, or ridiculous student – not one.

The students also seemed interested in my seminars.  They asked insightful questions, and actually some of them came up later and requested additional information.

Here is the lesson I learned.  I have been way too hard and critical of mortuary science students, and for that I publically apologize.  What I personally encountered at Northampton Community College renewed my faith in the future of our great and beloved profession, because no matter what we veteran funeral directors have to say about the future, the future of this great profession to a large extent rests on every breath of air that is taken by mortuary science students right this very moment across this county.

I am the past in funeral service; they are the future.  As I flew back to my world I felt the need to write this, to get my error in thinking off my chest, and to publically admit that I was wrong. Mortuary science students are mighty fine people – anyway the ones I encountered at Northampton fit the bill.

Anyway that is one old undertaker’s opinion. TVB