By María Celeste Delgado-Librero
The oldest email message I have kept to this day is from David Gies. He wrote to me in 2009 (6 years after I completed my Ph.D. at UVa) to apologize for what he described as an “unforgiveable,” “MAJOR blunder,” a “horrible oversight” for which the word “sorry” seemed “too lame.” “BRACE YOURSELF,” he wrote in ominous capital letters. I remember feeling a sense of dread – what crime could he possibly have committed against me that I had not even noticed? When I got to the explanation, I sighed with relief: Somehow, I had not been credited for the translation of an article in a book that he had edited. David had no idea how this had happened but, as the ultimate responsible individual of the project, he accepted full blame.
In those days, I was into my second year as director of a study abroad program, a very demanding job for which my university studies and teaching appointments had not really prepared me, a job in which I had no option but to make mistakes right and left, something that made me feel very insecure and vulnerable. To be honest, at that point in my life, I had completely forgotten about the translation and about the fact that the book would one day be published. So David’s unexpected message touched me as one of the most sincere, most generous, most human gestures I had received in a long time, and I don’t think I can overstate the impact it had in my attitude. Those 215 words simply changed the way I approached my own mistakes: They taught me to be honest, direct, and humble, to admit my errors as soon as I realized them, and to try to rectify if possible.
That single message made me a better person and a better professional, so I’m really happy that David made “a gaff.” If he hadn’t, my name would have been included in a footnote in a book; as it was, many students, parents, and study abroad professionals (including my own staff) were the indirect, but real, beneficiaries of David’s wisdom and humanity.