Thursday, September 27, 2012


Thank you, Mr. President.  My gratitude is deep -- especially deep since Northwestern was my home.  

But who is this Alvina Krause you honor?  A myth?  A legend?

A few weeks ago I loitered in the front yard of my Pennsylvania home.  A car drove up -- I think you would call it a car -- with a New York license.  A young man leaped out.

“Hello Alvina!”  And he kissed me!

Keep your cool!  Keep your cool!  This is 1980!  And I grinned up at him.  What did this young man from New York say to this old old woman in Pennsylvania?

“Teach me!”

And suddenly it is 1914 -- yes, 1914!  And I a string-haired, freckle-faced, undersized runt of a girl am sitting at last! -- in the auditorium of Annie May Swift.  Dean Dennis is introducing -- as only Ralph Dennis can do it -- the founder of the school, Robert McLean Cumnock!  I know there were a hundred or more students in that room but I swear the great man looked straight into my eyes as he said,  “Stand up!  Tell me who you are, where you came from, what you have done.”

“St.Paul, Minnesota, and I. . .”
“Boston, Massachusetts, and I . . .”
“Portland, Oregon, and I . . .”
“Los Angeles, and I played Juliet in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ . . .”
Tallahassee and I played Rosilind in ‘As You Like It!’

And I stood up and blurted out,  “Alvina Krause, New Lisbon, Wisconsin.” and I sat down.  Nobody from Nowhere, who had done Nothing!  That was my beginning in this famous school!

Ten years later I am sitting in the Dean’s office in Annie May Swift.  I try to tell him that first year of college teching in St. Paul, Minnesota, was not so bad.  "I . . .”  and I heard the Dean’s voice:  “I am inviting you to join the faculty of the School of Speech!”

Blackout!  Complete blackout, until I heard,  “Well, Alvina Krause, do you accept?"

Did that Cumnock voice of mine ring out in jubilation?  My mouth opened -- closed.  Not a sound!  Reflex action wagged my head up and down!

Now, fifty years later -- yes, fifty years, I stand here holding the President’s honor in my hand --

Who is this Alvina Krause?

I am a teacher!

And this teacher has a creed which must be spoke now.  No this is not the senile babbling of an octogenarian.  This is the creed that has been the backbone of my teaching -- the spine that kept me erect through the long years.

I believe.  I believe in Michelangelo.  I believe in William Shakespeare.  I believe in Bach, Brahms, Beethoven and all the great artists the preceeded them -- all that followed them.  And most of all I believe in that combination of the arts we call Theatre.  I believe, in spite of all that has been committed in that name, I believe the Theatre can -- if we but serve it truly -- I believe the Theatre can illuminate the lives we live even in the darkness which is today.

I am a teacher.  Ralph Dennis made me one, as did those students, thousands of them, who drove me, questioned me, challenged me every inch of the long road up to this moment.

And a teacher must ask questions.  We are here to celebrate the dedication of this Theatre/Interpretation Center.  To what -- to what do we dedicate this Center?

And deep within me there is still a faint voice which insists,  I believe!

October 11, 1980

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