Speech: Dr. Linda Hon, 2017 Educator Honoree

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EYUN-JUNG KI: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Eyun-Jung Ki, a professor at The University of Alabama. It is beyond my honor and privilege to be here tonight to introduce a person who has changed my life in the most significant way, this year’s Bruce K. Berger Educator Award winner, Dr. Linda Hon.

Linda was my dissertation chair, and has been my mentor, collaborator, friend and part of my family for more than 15 years. And everything I know about teaching and research in public relations, I learned from her. But the strength of her mentoring goes far beyond just teaching and research.

In 2001, I came to the United States to pursue my master’s and Ph.D. in public relations from the University of Florida. I expected the graduate school to be tough. But as an international student who barely spoke English, I found it was a lot more challenging than I had imagined.

I hit rock bottom during those years. There were many moments I felt like I was losing myself. And during those times, I knew I could knock Linda’s office door without an appointment and come in with, of course, tear-filled eyes. And she let me cry while graciously giving me a few Kleenex, and waited until I put myself together.

She never said she was too busy to see me. She always welcomed me with her beautiful smiles. And then, and then waited – and then listened, patiently listened to whatever was on my mind. And then she honestly shared her own personal experiences and wisdom with me, both as a mentor and a friend. And listening to her story was so therapeutic and comforting. So, by the time when I left her office, I felt uplifted and ready to return to my work.

Since becoming a faculty member myself, I realize how busy the academic life is. And I have come to appreciate Linda’s generosity and unselfishness in sharing her time with me even more. But more importantly though, I value her warm and kind heart. And I try to emulate those qualities Linda showed me when I interact with my own students.

Sometimes I’m working hard to meet deadlines. Some of my advisees come and see me. Honestly, it is really tempting to ask them, come back later. But I often ask myself, how would Linda react to the situation like this? And without a doubt, I know she would welcome a student in need with a big smile. So, I do the same.

Linda is a lot more than just a mentor to me. One of the drawbacks of having come to the United States from another country is not having family or friends here. I have a 6-year-old son who is my world in my happy place. My greatest fear has been thinking about – since he was born my greatest fear has been thinking about what would happen to him if I were gone unexpectedly.

At a conference, I talked to Linda and shared my fear. I said, “I don’t have anyone who can look after my son if my husband and I were gone suddenly.” And in response, she said, “What are you talking about? You have me.” At that moment, I was so surprised and so touched. I was at a loss for words. I couldn’t even say thank you.

At that moment, for so many years, I thought that I was the one who consider her as more than a mentor. But I realize the relationship is truly mutual. She considers me and her students more than just her mentees.

While I was putting together this introduction, and I reached out her former and her current students and asked them to share their thoughts about her mentoring and how she has touched their lives. Initially, I just wanted to choose a couple of them and then share them with you. But so many of them – so many of them send me touching messages. So, I ended up creating this booklet –

[LAUGHTER]

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EYUN-JUNG KI: – because it contains all of their touching messages so that Linda can cherish this big moment for the years to come.

And I heard the similar compliments from all of them. For example, Linda is the reason why I attended the University of Florida. And Linda continues to be a role model to me. And Linda is the most supportive mentor I’ve ever had.

And I have to add my own compliment to those. Linda is truly a teacher and mentor extraordinary. You never question my intelligence and my abilities for success because of my background or my language skills. Your faith – your faith in me has brought me this far. Thank you, Linda, for all you have done for so many of us. For all of these reasons, I’m so honored to present this year’s Bruce K. Berger Educator Award to Dr. Linda Hon. Thank you.

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DR. LINDA HON: Thank you so much, Eyun-Jung. That was beautiful.

First, I want to thank The Plank Center and the Board. What you probably don’t know is I was supposed to be here last year, and I was a no show. And they probably haven’t told you what really happened. I tripped over my dog and broke my arm the night before the election, because that was Monday. And I called Karla, and I said, “Well, Karla, I think I can walk to the plane, but I can’t wear anything but a nightgown.”

[LAUGHTER]

DR. LINDA HON: And I was just so moved when the Board contact – or the Board had made the decision to hold off for a year and bring me back. I think that shows just how gracious and wonderful this group of people is. And I’m just so happy to be here after a year.

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DR. LINDA HON: Just like we parent like we were parented, I think we mentor like we were mentored. And so, there are three very special people in my life I want to thank. I absolutely do not live up to their ideal of generosity and graciousness that they showed to me as a student. Jim and Laurie Grunig at the University of Maryland were my doctoral advisors, and they took a chance on an unknown kid and took me under their wing and opened opportunities for me, and were so kind and so generous. They really are like my second parents.

A previous winner, Elizabeth Toth from Syracuse, who’s now at Maryland, has also changed my life in ways that I can’t even explain. I mean, she is just the epitome of kindness and looking out for people. She contacted me about editing the Journal of Public Relations Research. Again, you know, why me? I felt very not up to the challenge and inexperienced. But she took a chance on me, and I am so grateful for her for that, as well as many other examples.

I also, of course, want to thank my wonderful students, Eyun-Jung and some others, or many others that I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the years. It’s really an honor to be an educator. It’s a wonderful way to spend your life. And I think you see why in Eyun-Jung’s comments and the wonderful relationship that we have. And it really is two-way. Eyun-Jung is very modest, but she is just such a brilliant scholar and researcher. We collaborated on many papers. All of these came from her. They were her initiative. She made me a better teacher and researcher, and I’m so grateful for that and our continued relationship. Again, getting to spend your life as an educator is really a special calling. And I’m just so grateful to all of my students, and obviously, especially her here tonight.

Also, I don’t think anybody gets a Ph.D. without having a lot of support along the way. So, I’m really, really grateful to my family for their emotional support, their financial support, all the times that I couldn’t be there, and they understood and helped me along the way.

Finally, I want to especially thank Betsy Plank. To me, Betsy was just the epitome of what it means to be a wonderful mentor. It’s been about, I think, maybe 20 years ago, I was a new professor, and I got the most beautiful letter in my mailbox from Betsy Plank. She had read an article I had written about public relations and the civil rights movement. And she told me how much it meant to her, that she had marched in the movement. And I just was so touched – I didn’t know her at that time – that she would, again, just reach out to a new professor. That was so typical of Betsy.

Betsy was also strategic. She sent a copy of the letter to my dean as well, for which I was I was very grateful. I was just so honored when she asked me to be on the inaugural Plank Center Board. And those six years were just a great time in my life. And I have such fond memories. And I’m so honored to be here and to continue to be involved. So, thank you so much. And again, thank you so much to Eyun-Jung for that heartfelt introduction.

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More from Dr. Linda Hon:

 

Resources of Interest

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