4 min read

The Mike Adams I Knew

I'm sure to other people, Mike's legacy will be his column or his social media posts or his insane legal victory against UNCW. But to me his legacy will be what it was to all the students who had the privilege of being around him: he saw me.
The Mike Adams I Knew

I never followed Mike on social and I think maybe I've read two of his columns. From what people are saying online, that's not enough to evaluate the man. So let me tell you about the Mike Adams I knew.

One evening, before Summit was set to open for the summer, I was leading a staff training session. The room was full of new and returning seasonal staff and I was walking them through some pointers. That's when Mike walked in the back. He always drove from North Carolina to Colorado to spend the summer with us and with Mike finally arriving, it felt like a corner piece had fallen into place.

Seeing Mike was like seeing an uncle. "Mike Adams!" I called out and the summer staffers all turned and erupted into applause. Most of them were either returning staff members or former students who had found their love for this peculiar and definitely-took-too-many-drugs-in-a-past-life professor through his hilarious, engaging, studied, thought-provoking lectures. And they loved him.

It wasn't uncommon for Mike to walk in the back of the classroom. You'd think that a lecturer of his calibre listening to you would be intimidating, but it never was. Mike's profoundly gifted speaking charisma was perfectly balanced with his generosity of spirit. I have never known anyone who could step on stage and step off stage with equal dexterity and enthusiasm.

Years earlier, my first experience with Mike was introducing him at his lecture. I knew he would tell the now classic story: people at his public events would protest him and he'd realized it was a capitalist opportunity so he started selling "I Hate Mike Adams" t-shirts. I bought one of those t-shirts and put it on before introducing him. Mike would be behind me, leaning against the prop desk on Summit's stage with the pursed smirk he always wore when he knew he was being a troll.

As the classroom staff would blare Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" (a tradition started by my predecessor and, to my knowledge, Mike was the only faculty member to have earned his own walk-on music), the students would file back in. They'd look up at my t-shirt, then down at their schedules, then back up at me expecting me to acknowledge it. But I'd play it straight. This was a Mike Adams lectures. And they were about to get all the explanation they'd need.

There was so much energy in the room when introducing Mike. Guitar riffs blaring, the eager expectation of second year students, the in-on-it smiles of the classroom staff. I'd get to the end of introduction with as much as I could muster, "Please welcome Dr. Mike Adams!" And the room would explode. I jumped off stage as quickly as possible, probably from the same instinct that makes an aircraft carrier's catapult officer duck.

Mike would leap up from the desk, his slender neck poking through his polo shirt at an angle from his hunched back. His mischievous (if strangely well-coiffed) head nodding in faux humility as he paced back and forth like a fighter loosening up.

"Stop it, stop it!" He'd tell the cheering students, "Okay, a little more. Just a little more." It was his standard, opening bit.

It was the same opening bit he used that night at staff training, too. "Oh stop! Stop! Okay a little more." and the staff members clapped and laughed because they loved it. And they loved him.

I finished my presentation and dismissed everyone for the night. The returning staff went back to give Mike handshakes and hugs.

I was packing up my computer when he made his way up to the stage. He didn't have to. He'd just finished a cross-country drive and probably should have gone to his cabin. Instead, we exchanged pleasantries and then he asked, "So how's school going?" I have no idea how he even remembered I was in school. And I also didn't know how to answer. I was failing classes. I hated my assignments. My administration had rejected my appeal to do independent studies. All my profs were adjuncts. I just hated school.

But I'm sure I answered with the same dodge I always give people when they ask, "Oh, it's pretty rough, honestly."

He nodded with his trademark "Mmmhmm."

"Well," he said, "You just gotta keep going, man. You just gotta finish."

Driving away the hotel that night, I thought about what he said. It was the first time in my six years of trying to earn my undergrad degree that a faculty member –any faculty member– had asked me how school was going. And I began to weep.

I'm sure to other people, Mike's legacy will be his column or his social media posts or his insane legal victory against UNCW. But to me his legacy will be what it was to all the students who had the privilege of being around him: he saw me.

He was a credentialed, tenured professor at a name brand university with an off-the-charts RateMyProfessor and I was a failing adult completion student at an online school. Still, every time I was with him, he made me feel like a colleague.

Mike, I'm sorry we weren't closer. You taught me far more than you knew. And you gave me far more than I gave you. Your generosity was only exceeded by your passion. And you accomplished what you always wanted: you fought good fights and you taught thousands of students to do the same. And as my phone blew up on the news of your death, I can assure you, you did not die childless. Your name will live on as wave after wave of good fighters remember the crazy knight who galloped into the fray and seemed to love every minute of it.

May you finally rest in peace.