Gladstone-Sovell beats the odds
September 27, 2007
On the first day of class, a student might walk into any one of their given classes and sit down. As they expectantly wait to see if the teacher is going to show up as the clock ticks closer to class time. At the last minute she bustles into the room – a small woman who exudes energy.
She’s smiling, dressed head to toe in purple, from her plum purple pants to the flowered purple scarf covering her wild, curly, silvering hair. She might begin the class like any other, by taking roll, but then unlike any other teachers, she begins to tell you how she’s recovering from a brain tumor.
This teacher’s name is Tracy Gladstone-Sovell and she is chair of the political science department.
This summer, Gladstone-Sovell was treated for a brain tumor, but that’s not what she wants to talk about. She wants to emphasize the other people who have played roles in her life this summer, specifically the ones from River Falls.
“This is a great place to work and be associated with,” Gladstone-Sovell said.
One story she was eager to share was of a former student who worked as a technician during her treatment. She said she kept running into River Falls connections all summer.
When she received flowers from the physics department, she said, “Thank you for the flowers, and thank you for physics.”
The visits from students, the chancellor, faculty and many others from River Falls, and the support she received from everyone mattered a great deal to her, she said.
One of the students who visited her this summer was Mary Zoubek. Zoubek met Gladstone-Sovell when she changed her major her sophomore year. Now in her senior year, Zoubek has taken class with Gladstone-Sovell and works in her office as an assistant.
“You could tell last year she was here, but….” as Zoubek trails off it’s apparent that even though she might not have known exactly what was wrong with Gladstone-Sovell last year, she knew something was amiss.
Gladstone was diagnosed with a brain tumor that she herself finds difficult to talk about.
“My reaction was not good,” Zoubek said. “Scared. Devastated. Shocked. You always expect it to be the other person, you know?”
But in Gladstone-Sovell’s mind, she had no cause for concern, because not coming back to teach was never an option. From the beginning she was checking with doctors to make sure she would be back in the fall to teach and not sitting at home, or giving in to the tumor, she said.
In Zoubek’s mind, this attitude is concurrent with Gladstone-Sovell’s personality.
“You know how in everyday life there are those things that bother us, we let things get to us,” Zoubek said. “This was so much bigger and I remember her saying ‘I’m gonna fight it.’ And she said it so many times; ‘I’m gonna fight it.’ I think that says a lot about her – she doesn’t let anything get her down.”
She is eager to talk about the good, the people, and the help she’s received before she would mention overcoming a brain tumor. It’s hard to imagine anything was wrong at all this summer.
“I thought, ‘Is this going to stop her or slow her down? She was not slowed down at all.” Zoubek said. “She’s been more ‘Go, get the job done.’” And Gladstone-Sovell agreed.
“Things are going more or less the way they are normally going,” Gladstone-Sovell said.
In her Socratic-style classes, where she asks the students to discuss their reading on Nietzsche, there is only a brief second of thought before a student chimes in with an answer to her questions.
Zoubek says she’s noticed how Gladstone-Sovell takes advantage of every second and every person; how she’s very optimistic and makes the most of every day.
Gladstone-Sovell trades jokes with her students in friendly class banter, that she ultimately relates back to the subject at hand – Nietzsche. As she leans with both hands against the ledge of the chalkboard, she looks out on her political science philosophy course and relates one of Nietzsche’s ideas to her class.
“This reminds me of one of my new favorite sayings,” Gladstone-Sovell said. “It is what it is.”