Bretton DeLaria on Thomas Merton and Finding His Writing Voice

Noodle Expert Bretton DeLaria discusses the writings of Thomas Merton and how he found his own writing voice in the rewrite an essay in the seventh grade.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

Yikes! This is a good question and it's hard to decide on just one. If I could learn from anyone, I would love to bring back Thomas Merton and learn from him. His writings, reflections, and meditations are some of those most powerful pieces that have impacted and shaped my life into a vocation of service in education. I would love to have an afternoon to pick his brain and talk with him about some of his theological writings.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

Long ago, someone shared a quote attributed to Mother Teresa and Kent Keith called "Do It Anyway." The poem/quote/saying has governed my way of life since I encountered it. It provides a list of tribulations and daily pains we encounter, but instead of letting it get you down, the message is to keep giving, keep loving, and to pour your everything into what your doing. The bottom line is that you can't let others smother your passion.

Where would you send a student who hasn’t traveled before?

Keep these great questions coming! I'll answer two-fold. If the student is a U.S. resident who cannot go abroad, I would tell her to run to Washington D.C. Maybe it is because I am a history teacher at heart, but I truly believe that if a student wants to gain an education and glimpse into the modern and past world, D.C. has a variety of experiences to offer a global perspective.

Now, if we are saying its someone with unlimited resources, I'd tell her to go somewhere that would challenge her on all levels. What I mean by this is that the student should go somewhere where she can serve and learn by working with others, whether it be Europe, a third world country, or simply just somewhere local to volunteer. The best education you can get is from talking with others who are not like you.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

Just one time? Failure is not something to be ashamed of ... it is something to embrace and grow from. At least after all these years that is what I learned from all my failure. When I think academically, I have to go back to the first time I really just bombed an assignment. In seventh grade, we had to write an essay on Tecumseh for history class. I remember that for the previous paper, our teacher read the best essay to the class. The essay was this creative writing piece that took the first person perspective and really was an outstanding and innovate way to approach the assignment. I tried to emulate this in my Tecumseh essay and failed miserably. I mean failed like bombed it with an F grade. My instructor allowed the whole class to rewrite the essays as the quality was just not meeting his expectations. I ended up getting an A on the redo, and it was average with my F grade. I learned there and then that you have to be true to yourself and your own voice in the writing process. While imitation is the best form of flattery, it is just that: an imitation. Be the real deal. You know your strengths, gifts, and talents, so express yourself and be true to you as an academic.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

Is this where I expected to be? No, absolutely not; but life has a funny way in taking your plans and changing them. As I mentioned earlier, at heart, I am a history educator. My B.A. is in education with an emphasis on social studies. But life took my plans to jump into the classroom after I graduated and rerouted me.

As I was finishing up my degree, I was actually offered a full-time web marketing position at Saint Louis University that I could not pass up. How can someone with an education degree go into marketing? Well, technology and business always have come natural to me and are a hobby. While working as a student, I was noticed by the Dean of the Business School at SLU. When the position for the web marketing coordinator opened up, I was asked to consider applying. At that time, the economy was still recovering, and it was a way for me to give back to the college that helped become into the person I am today, so I jumped on it. I always joked that there were three things I'd never do in my professional life.

  1. Work for Saint Louis University.
  2. Work in IT/business.
  3. Have job that required coding.

In one job, I accomplished to do all three. I worked for the Cook School for two years, helping set digital content strategy and redesigning their website from the ground up. After two years of success and laying a strong foundation, I felt a need to get back to my roots, but I still wanted to use my tech skills. It was around that time that the Assistant Director of the 1818 Advanced College Credit Program opened up and I applied. The position was a dream job and a healthy mix of connecting my passion for education with my additional technology/web/marketing skills. Soon after I started, our director of 14 years announced her retirement, and I was asked to serve as interim director, which is where I am at today.

I would have never dreamed the path that I've been on so far and that I would end up being involved in dual credit, but I could not be happier. I love the work that I do in building a program to help high school students access higher education, the relationships I build with high schools, the people I get to work with and meet, and the wonderful impact I am having on students' lives. Success in this position is when I get feedback about a student who was able to take SLU dual credit and go on to achieve astounding things in her undergraduate career, like graduate early, study abroad, triple major, double minor, and so on. It truly brings fulfillment in the utmost way to know that SLU's mission is alive and well and is positioning itself to be a leader that is involved at the core in students' educational lives.

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