toast_zelljadtThe fact that I am reading this toast may possibly mean that Margaret Zelljadt, Professor of German Studies, has actually retired. Twice before she signaled her intention to retire. Each time, the College pleaded with her to put off her departure, and each time she characteristically agreed to extend her long service to Smith College. That service is equaled by few: 43 years on the faculty, 17 years as class dean, 6 years as chair of the German department, 6 years directing the Junior Year Abroad program in Hamburg, 2 years as Associate Dean for International Study, and 2 years as the College’s Director of Graduate Studies. I won’t put your quantitative skills to the test of summing up all those years of service, because her contributions to those offices go far beyond mere numbers.

Margaret graduated from the University of Michigan in 1963, with honors not in German, but in French. Her M.A. in German from Indiana University came in 1967, following two years at the Freie Universität Berlin, supported by a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship, and summers in Weimar. She taught for a year at Spelman College before receiving the invitation to join the faculty of Smith College as an Instructor in 1968.

Shortly after arriving at Smith, she began her doctoral work at the University of Massachusetts while shouldering a full-time teaching load (which, at the time, I can assure you, was not 2-2+). She completed her Ph.D. in 1976, working under Carroll Reed. She became one of a very few scholars in the United States specializing in Middle Low German of the late medieval period. Her dissertation was published by Peter Lang in 1979 as A Descriptive Grammar of the Lübecker Bibel of 1494. In later years, she continued her work on this early German dialect, through her research on the scholar Agathe Lasch (who taught at Bryn Mawr College in the early twentieth century and specialized in Middle Low German) and on Sebastien Brant’s Narrenschiff.

However, two other publications perhaps do a better job of signaling her devotion to Smith and to her work in the field of international education: her meticulously researched “One Hundred Years of German at Smith,” and her article, co-authored with Denise Rochat in 1998, “Beyond Accidental Tourism: The Case for a Junior Year Abroad,” with the accent on YEAR. Margaret’s colleagues describe her as a masterful teacher, philologist, and linguist who worked particularly hard at equipping students in the early stages of learning German with the tools and skills to ensure their success during their junior year in Hamburg (and the same might be said of the faculty who would direct the program, who relied on her for advice and counsel). She created GER 110, the intensive elementary class–a “legend” in the department’s curriculum which was taught for two decades–and she was also a pioneer in computer-aided language instruction in the mid-1980s. Within the department, she functioned as the institutional memory, and colleagues tell stories of many an awkward moment diffused by her good nature and infectious laugh.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I have learned about Margaret’s tenure at Smith is that her early contributions to college life included appearing in a number of Gilbert and Sullivan productions. It has been suggested that the role of Lord High Executioner in The Mikado might have been a kind of professional development for her later job as Dean of the Senior Class, however having seen her in action in College Hall, constantly working to ensure the academic success of her charges, while always adhering to the strictest and fairest standards, I would suggest a better comparison would be with the virtuous, principled, and generous Frederic, in The Pirates of Penzance, who lives by the motto, “Duty is before all.”