A letter of reference

I am asked to write these from time to time. I love being able to do this for students I have come to know well. Here’s one I wrote today. Name changed.

December 9, 2011

To whom it may concern:

It was great pleasure that I write this recommendation for Ira McGwynn in support of her application to your graduate program. I know Ira as Ira Hernandez, who was an extraordinary student and member of our community at Oglethorpe University where I serve as President. Since leaving Oglethorpe, Ira has married and taken a new last name.

Ira graduated from Oglethorpe in May , 2008 and we remain in touch. It’s hard to find just a few words to describe Ira: committed, energetic, persistent, enthusiastic, tenacious are some that come to mind. Those will give us a start anyway. Ira would often stop in my office to talk about one project or another she was working on, always trying to figure out how to best align her work with the work of Oglethorpe and, most especially, to make what she was doing more effective and impactful. As just one example, she and I worked together on a very successful exhibition of Latin American art that eventually came to our university museum. While at Oglethorpe, Ira was deeply involved in activities on and off campus. She interned for television stations, worked in our study abroad office, was a legislative aide to the Georgia House of Representatives, worked at CNN, had a fellowship with the Governor’s office, and more. With everything Ira does, she does it with energy, commitment, persistence, enthusiasm and tenacity. That’s just who she is.

I suspect those qualities in Ira come in large part from the challenges she faced moving to the states from Mexico at the age of 22, starting from scratch in carving out a new life in America. She studied English and worked in different trades (housekeeping and landscaping among them) to pay her way to school.

I remember a particular story Ira shared with me that I’d like to share with you. I may get a detail or two wrong, but allow me that please. Ira was riding a bus in southern California and met a couple there, complete strangers. She told them her dream was to go to and complete college. The man and woman gave her their number and said if they could help, she should ask. At some point years after, Ira called that number. The couple had since moved to Georgia. Come, they said, live with us and go to school here, and Ira did just that. And in 2008, she achieved her dream and graduated from college, from Oglethorpe University. I met this couple at her graduation ceremony and I asked them what they were possibly thinking when they offered this complete stranger such help. They explained to me they had done such a thing just a few times in their lives, based on a gut instinct that the person they were offering to help would not disappoint them. These gifts they made turned out to be the greatest gifts to themselves in their lives. Ira didn’t disappoint. She never does. I promise you she won’t disappoint you.


Lawrence Schall


Oglethorpe University

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One Response to A letter of reference

  1. Mike mc alpin says:

    Thanks for sharing a wonderful story about an OU student.

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