We gathered together on September 15 to celebrate Rick Kern’s tenure as faculty director of the
BLC and to welcome Emily Hellmich, our new associate director. Amongst the chocolate and
carrot cakes and some celebratory wine, we reconnected with old friends and colleagues and
made new connections. We celebrated the Berkeley Language Center’s history and future,
finding renewed inspiration to sustain the central vision of our work: to nurture the teaching of
languages and cultures on campus and beyond.
We also marveled at the newly designated BLC poet laureate, Claire Kramsch, and her dramatic
reading of the poem she wrote and dedicated to Rick Kern. We share it here with you.
On Rick’s retirement from the BLC
(loosely inspired by Berthold Brecht’s 1938 poem on the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tse’s departure and emigration (“Legende von der Entstehung des Buches Tao Te King auf dem Weg des Laotse in die Emigration“)
After 15 years at the helm of the Berkeley Language Center
The professor thought it might be time to go.
The French department was calling −
They needed a chair.
The new dean was beckoning −
They needed a global citizen.
And at the BLC
An Executive Director was in the making
who could flow with the flow.
So he tightened his necktie
And didn’t say no.
And he cleared his hard drive:
Emails and memos
received over the years
from grateful graduates and inquiring undergrads, undergrads,
from anxious freshmen and blasé seniors.
from eminent guest speakers and imaginative language teachers,
from supportive linguists and language archivers,
from helpful co-workers and less helpful administrator.
from pesky bureaucrats and budget managers,
from busy deans and even busier chairs.
To all this, he clicked “DELETE”.
No longer his business
no longer his care.
He had bigger things upstairs.
As he prepared to move
from Basement Dwinelle to 4th floor French,
He packed what he needed.
Not much but the essential:
A picture of his family –
Louise and the girls and Teddy the dog,
His helmet and his trusty bicycle,
His guitar and recordings of his favorite music:
Wes Montgomery’s “4 on 6”and Charlie Christian’s “Cotton tail”,
Not to forget the Brazilians Gil and Jobim
to jazz up the French menu of
Fauré and Debussy.
He took off the shelf
His trusty copy of Le Bon Usage and Le Petit Robert –
Les trésors de la langue francaise
that he would need as chair.
His own two hardbacks: Literacy and Language Teaching
and Language, Literacy and Technology.
And the vegetarian sandwich
Louise had fixed him for lunch.
As he started his ascent
through the dark narrow stairwell
from the basement of Dwinelle
to the august peaks of French civilization,
he turned around and smiled as he surveyed
what he left behind:
The multilingual community
that he and the BLC team
had shaped over the years;
the warm collegiality of language teachers,
the multicultural dinners
(where masters of foreign tongues morphed into master cooks),
the annual picnics in Live Oak Park,
the multilingual Words in Action,
the creative Kabarett performances,
the Found in Translation brown bag lunches,
the weekly fellows meetings,
the professional solidarity
and the personal friendships
he had nurtured –
and he found all this good.
Now from the 4th floor of Dwinelle
he can see the roofs of the Berkeley campus
sliding softly towards the Bay.
On that fourth floor
The air is thinner, the language more refined.
A je ne sais quoi reminds him of Paris.
He now sips Sancerre instead of Zinfandel
and has added pousse-cafés to his lunch appointments.
But now and then in the French department
between the promotion and the tenure cases,
the departmental reviews,
the curricular debates and
the staff meetings,
he remembers his days in the Basement.
He knows that we have not forgotten him
and that he will always be welcome…
in whatever language…
in B-4-0 Dwinelle.
5 September 2022
Pictures courtesy of Spring Yan