Memories of a Teacher

By Shawn Manley

At the Memorial Celebration in Honor of E. W. Dijkstra
November 21, 2002

Hello. My name is Shawn Manley. I'm a first-year student in the Ph.D. program here. I took Professor Dijkstra's undergraduate course on "Mathematical Methodology" in the spring of 1999, and have been asked to give a student perspective on how he has influenced my thinking and career choice.

I suppose the obvious impact Professor Dijkstra has had on me can be witnessed by the fact that I am now working towards a Ph.D. in formal methods. I was first introduced to his proofs of program correctness in Dr. Myers's CS336 class. I remember doing the first homework set that dealt with weakest preconditions and proving small programs correct, and I just thinking, "What an incredibly powerful idea!" I have since done a lot of reading on the subject, and it's been primarily Professor Dijkstra's articulations of the importance of formal methods that have convinced me to go to grad school and do what I'm doing.

Of course, taking his undergraduate course reinforced my convictions, but it also influenced me in other, more general ways. His methodical approach to problem solving has made me a better computer scientist in general. And hearing his views on such things as what it means to be an intellectual, what the role of the university in society should be, et cetera, has had a broad impact on my thinking beyond the realm of just computer science.

I'll always be grateful to Professor Dijkstra for giving me the opportunity to learn directly from him at such an early stage in my career. It's one thing to read his works, but it's really inspiring to have someone whom you admire take the time to personally teach you, answer your questions, and offer advice and guidance. I think it's remarkable that someone of Dijkstra's academic stature continued to teach to undergraduates his whole career, and I hope that when I become a professor (knock on wood!), I maintain the same commitment to teaching that he did. And I can only hope and pray that I do it with even half the style and class that Professor Dijkstra did.

Now, I didn't know him as well as many of you did, but I can speak to this: Professor Dijkstra loved teaching. You could see his enthusiasm every day in the classroom. He kept an album with photos of all his students, along with copies of the homeworks they did for his courses. And I will never forget the last day of class when, after wrapping up with some general remarks, he got very quiet, his eyes started to tear up, and he announced that this was the last class he would teach, that he was retiring. He thanked us for the honor of letting him teach us, and then quickly left the room. He loved teaching, and he was awfully good at it, and I would just like to close by saying that when we get together, like we're doing tonight, to remember Professor Dijkstra's long list of major contributions to the field of computer science, I think he would be very pleased to have us remember that teaching was one of them.