The Smiling Ghost of Dr. Wilkins-O’Riley Zinn

In which Carrie learns of her favorite professor’s death and smiles because this is one of many ways Zinn wants to be remembered…

Dear Zinn,

This is the hardest thing I have ever written for you…much harder than my one page “Philosophy of Education” and the other small books you assigned.  I’ve got a bubble in my eye and a big balloon of hurt in my windpipe, and I do believe your death-without-asking-if-I’d-be-ready-for-it is going to be one of the hardest in my life time.

You’ve given me the gift of knowing you pretty well.  You’ve encouraged me to write and read and love and play.  I learned quickly by your example what kind of educator I am.  You showed me how to stand strong for the qualitative, the gray, the underdog, the dreamer, the artist, me.  You reminded me to not be so hard on myself.

I love you.

Your friend and grateful student,

Carrie Anne

Class of 2009


5 responses to “The Smiling Ghost of Dr. Wilkins-O’Riley Zinn

  • Josh Zinn

    Hi Carrie, I know we don’t know one another, but I just wanted to thank you and let you know that I shared this posting (hope you don’t mind!). I’ve known my entire life that my Mom was a remarkable person, but to read that other people feel the same way about her and cherished all the love and care she put into her work and relationships with her students really brings a lot of healing to my family. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Josh Zinn

  • philosopheriturist


    I was a little hesitant to post this, but your mom’s wisdom informed me that it was okay. The next day I grieved by researching “aesthetics,” reading poetry, and, as something she would advocate, handwriting numerous pages in my journal. It had been neglected for some time.

    Her death has created new obligations within me regarding the desire to work more on what she modeled as a teacher and friend. And she would also tell me to be ME as I put myself out into the world. Her belief in the power of whole person was comforting.

    Her “Sillybration” coming up on the 15th is something I want to make and need to evaluate regarding some limits. I hope to meet you one day. I’m naturally fond of other friends-of-the-theatre.



  • Jamie Haden

    Josh,Jim,family, and hundreds of us who were transformed by Zinn’s existence….

    She amazes me… She molded me to love each and everyone of my students for who they are whether challenging or easy… She empowers me to be more than what is expected…. She taught me that everything has a story and purpose and that nothing is worth throwing away, especially the broken pieces….. She showed me how to embrace who i am as i grow…. She encourages me to live with a full heart and chase dreams…. Fun, fun, fun is worth it and a must in this short life….

    Zinn, thank you for changing my heart and being my role model….. I cherish you and respect you as one of the most gifted and effective professors in this big world.

    Cheers to Zinn and all the seeds she planted which flourish everyday!


  • “Give It the Old College Try” « philosopheriture

    […] in my life who inspire the continuation of its study in my life.  One person was my professor Wilkins-O’Riley Zinn (W-OZ) who died this August unexpectedly.  She encouraged my personal writing goals and to teach […]

  • Wilkins-O’Riley Zinn (W-OZ) Reminds Me of David Foster Wallace | philosopheriture

    […] still mourns publicly over the death of her friend  mentor, and teacher, Zinn, while telling her Smiling Ghost some stories of goldfish and the meaning of […]

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