As I reached for the doorknob I hesitated, stepped back and took
in all the signs and posters affixed to the door. At the very top
read a sign “Entrez” and while I assumed it was French for “enter,”
I knocked anyway. I heard a very soft voice whisper “Entrez-vous”
in return. My assumption was correct. I turned the knob and walked
into the quaint and soon to be vacant office of Mary Jorgenson,
professor of French & Francophone Studies.
Glancing around at the ebbing emptiness of the bookshelves and
walls that appeared to have been once covered in memorabilia, I was
immediately reminded why I was there. This semester, after 19
years, will be Jorgenson’s last at Mills. As a non-tenured
professor she has been on a three-year contract, which comes to an
end in May as result of financial constraints and lack of foreign
language support on campus.
“French has become an elective, so our classes are
“It’s unfortunate that it’s not used for any other major,
including International Relations,” said Jorgenson who earned a
Ph.D. from the University of Berkeley in 16th Century French
Poetry. She spent four years living in France and feels
bi-national. She’s very much American but feels a close connection
to France. She even speaks French at home with her children.
When I asked her what she will miss the most about Mills she
immediately said “my students.”
Her students and classes are what have kept her going over the
past 19 years. No matter what was going on in her personal life,
she knew she could always say “Well, at least I have my
Fortunately, as this chapter closes in Jorgenson’s life another
chapter can begin.
She is also a painter and has a studio at home where she will
spend a lot of time. Painting since she was eight years old, she
has worked with a large variety of mediums: drawing, pastels, but
painting is her passion.
Also, because she is 60-plus years old, she is looking at this
change as her “early retirement” and she will be far from
The longer we talked the more I began wishing that French was
part of our general education requirements as Spanish was once
required for my high school graduation. I could certainly stand to
“parlez-vous Francais” instead of burning valuable brain cells
attempting to “parlez-vous Introduction to Economics.” I do not now
and probably never will “parlez-vous Introduction to Economics” no
matter how hard my professor attempts to beat into my thick skull.
I am considering taking a French class at a community college over
the summer, just because.
As we wrapped up the interview and I gathered my things to leave
I felt that we had somehow bonded in that short period of time. As
she stretched out her hand to mine, I felt compelled to hug her.
She gave me a warm heartfelt hug and then informed me that we must
also do it “the French way.” Cheek kisses, one on each side, of