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Best friends support CMU professors, lecturers with widespread thank you letters

Perry Fish/Staff Photographer Susan Naeve-Velguth, Communication Disorders professor hugs Washington Senior Abbie Diaz after getting a letter thanking the faculty and staff for their dedication to the students as Carson City Senior Justin Burnham looks on in the Health Professions building Wednesday afternoon. Diaz and Burnham printed over 1,000 fliers and personal letters and passed them out to every major building on campus. "I feel like a better Central student now because I've seen literally every inch of this campus," said Diaz.

Best friends Granger senior Justin Burnham and Washington senior Abbie Diaz are distributing encouraging letters to every Central Michigan University faculty and staff member.

The letter begins, “Dear CMU Faculty and Staff, we would like to express our deep and sincere gratitude for your efforts in the last couple of months and acknowledge the struggles you have been facing.”

“After the restraining order on Monday and knowing the faculty couldn’t do anything more, we tried to think of what we could do,” Diaz said. “We saw a lot of students using their time to yell about President Ross, who has awoken a sleeping giant. Rather than keep putting people down, we wanted to bring the faculty up.”

Burnham and Diaz said they both study anthropology, schedule the same courses at the same time, are roommates, finish each other’s sentences and are planning on attending the same graduate school.

“Justin and I met by accident last year after parking next to each other,” Diaz said. “I said ‘Hey, boy in the yellow shirt!’ to get his attention because he looked like someone I’d be friends with. Together, we’ve been taking over the world ever since.”

Diaz and Burnham began their latest mission Monday, by deciding to write and distribute personal letters to the professors with whom they are the closest.

“When you think of a really great professor that you’ve had and will remember 20 years from now — that’s who we wrote them to,” Diaz said. “I wrote one of my letters to a fierce, passionate professor of theater, Sadie Chandler, who’s not a part of the FA (Faculty Association). She changed what I thought a powerful woman could be and look at me now doing this.”

After writing about 10 personal letters each, the duo said they decided they wanted to do more.

“Justin and I aren’t the emotional type; we’re the 'grab life by the balls and run with it' people," Diaz said. "But we were raised in the same way, where we realize the need to respect teachers and education, and we wanted to say thank you to everyone.”

So, the duo set out to meet and thank every faculty and staff member on campus.

“Whether you’re tenured or not, everyone deserves to be thanked,” Burnham said.

There is not a professor here that doesn't care about students, Diaz said.

Burnham said they spent all of Tuesday passing the letters out, finishing Wednesday evening.

“We checked every building, from top to bottom, inside every nook and cranny to find faculty and staff,” Burnham said, who walked over campus for eight hours passing out letters with Diaz.

The two said they handed out well over 1,000 letters to faculty, staff and graduate assistants, and used up their CMU printing quota in the process. They also put the letter on their Facebook page “Props to our Professors.”

Cathy Willermet, assistant professor of sociology, anthropology and social work, received a personal letter from Burnham and Diaz.

“These letters are phenomenal, something I’ll keep forever,” Willermet said. “It is emotional to see all of these students supporting us. The students have our backs- they’re holding us up and also walking with us arm in arm at the same time. It really shows that we’re all in this together and makes us feel like we’re not alone.”

Professors read the letters aloud in meetings, and each has a special meaning, she said.

Laura Cochrane, assistant professor of sociology, anthropology and social work, said she has taught at different universities and the students’ support shows solidarity between faculty and students — something unique to CMU, she said.

“We’re always working in the classroom to make students our colleagues one day and students are showing that they already are,” Cochrane said.

Burnham said the general reaction from professors was full of tears, hugs and gratitude and many professors display letters outside their doors on bulletin boards.

The letter ends, “Your courageousness and perseverance is not overlooked … Thank you for making us proud to be your students.”