Francis Su just ended his term as president of the Mathematical Association of America in January 2017. At his blog, he posted the text of his farewell address. Let’s be honest: even as a jaded math prof, reading it made me cry. Want to see how a wonderful math prof really thinks about his job?
He talks about the people he knows and cares about who do math — or who have quit because of the headwinds they’ve faced. It’s easy to say, “If you have enough passion, you’ll be willing to face any rejection and you’ll keep going,” but that just doesn’t reflect human life. Some people do persevere despite all the odds. Others have to pay bills or set their dreams aside for a time. Francis’s address urges math profs to look out for the students coming up who are facing these headwinds, of all kinds, and help them through. So many factors go into every stage of success that it’s easy to lose track of them. It’s easy to think, “I should be doing better at this. Since I’m not, I’m just not cut out for this.”
Read Francis’s address to be reminded of the fuller story and be encouraged. Yes, it’s addressed to profs, not students, but peek behind the office door and check out what we are talking about!
Play, beauty, truth, justice, love — these are the reasons Francis wants us to do math.