July 31, 2017

by Dr. Karl-Heinrich Barsch

Dr. Karl-Heinrich Barsch remembers student Douglas Rudy and tells of the impact Douglas had on the lives around him. Dr. Barsch retired from UCF in 2006 and is a professor emeritus.

I first met Douglas Rudy when I was the French professor who directed the UCF Intensive French Summer Study in Normandy, France. It was 1980. Rudy was new to UCF, but aced the French admittance test for the program and earned excellent grades in that 6-week immersion experience and in the advanced French Literature courses on campus at UCF thereafter.

It was after the study abroad semester that I started to notice Rudy’s increasingly frequent absences from my classes.

One day he came to my office and explained that he had been diagnosed with cancer and was absent frequently because he needed chemotherapy. He asked me to keep this information private so that other students would not know.

As his condition worsened, we met more frequently. And the more his illness progressed, the more heroically he redoubled his efforts to keep up with his coursework. On the one hand, he fully realized the severity of his condition, on the other hand, he refused to give up hope.

Doug was not able to finish his last semester at UCF, spring 1982; yet he made an effort to attend class on the very last day. For Rudy, attending class and learning was a way of living, and he wanted to live as intensively and as long as he possibly could.

Doug was absent for the final exams. By that time, his chemotherapy had been discontinued and he was at home, on oxygen, and had difficulty breathing and talking. But in a phone conversation he told me about his one major worry:  he did not want to leave behind “Incomplete” grades, especially if they would automatically convert into “F” grades if he did not return to class. When I assured him that the grades would remain “Incomplete,” he felt better, but it still bothered him. Making up these “Incomplete” grades was always his plan, but Douglas Rudy died on May 31st that year.

Douglas Rudy’s life and death left us with some difficult questions: What sense does it make to worry about grades and to work feverishly for an education when one may not have a future? What is the value of a half-finished education interrupted by death? Perhaps the answers to these and similar questions lie in a sentence that the French writer, aviation pioneer and WWII fighter pilot Saint-Exupéry wrote in 1939: “Ce qui donne un sens à la vie donne un sens à la mort.” (“What gives meaning to life gives meaning to death.”) And one can add here as well the equally true opposite —what gives meaning to death gives meaning to life. I believe Doug’s quest revealed the deeper notion that the process of learning can give meaning to the process of living. This is a lesson worth treasuring and preserving at UCF.

With the help of Doug’s parents, relatives and friends, and many students and faculty members, we have established the Douglas Rudy Endowed Memorial Scholarship. Since Rudy is reported to have said that his time at the UCF Study Abroad Program was one of the happiest in his life, his parents and I decided to use this scholarship to provide other promising students in need an opportunity to attend a UCF Study Abroad program.

Over the years, this scholarship has helped dozens of deserving UCF students to experience a life-changing study-abroad opportunity. More importantly, through these scholarship competitions, thousands of UCF students of successive generations have been familiarized with the remarkable courage and spirit of Douglas Rudy. And because of this important contribution, student Douglas Rudy has indeed assured himself an important legacy here at UCF, a legacy that has truly enriched UCF and that will forever be so much more than an unfinished academic record that ends with some “Incomplete” grades. Thank you for your interest in and your support for the Douglas Rudy Endowed Memorial Scholarship.

Please help the legacy of Douglas Rudy and the love of learning live on for a student in need and make a gift to the Douglas Rudy scholarship or the College of Arts and Humanities today: https://www.ucffoundation.org/givetocah.

Category: Faculty/Staff, Highlight, News

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