A heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the teacher who impacted my entrepreneurial journey

Richard Levychin is an EO New York member and chairperson of EO OneWorld, a membership platform affiliated with EO’s New York chapter which believes that a diverse EO is a stronger EO. EO OneWorld will add value to EO by attracting more EO members from the Black, Hispanic/Latino(a)(x), Asian and LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurial communities. Richard is also a partner in Galleros Robinson Certified Public Accountants and Advisors, where he heads the firm’s Commercial Audit and Assurance practice. Richard is grateful to the mentors who inspired him to succeed, and wrote a touching tribute to a college professor who had a lasting impact on him. The following article originally appeared in Business Insider and is reprinted here with an addendum, as noted toward the end.

When I received a letter from my alma mater, Baruch College, awarding me with the Baruch College Alumni Association Leadership Award for Business, which was to be presented as part of their annual meeting, I was deeply humbled.

I did a flashback in time to when I was the 18-year-old immigrant kid from Jamaica, living in Springfield Gardens, Queens in New York who, in his sophomore year at Baruch, was enrolled in two back-to-back advanced accounting classes taught by Diane Gold, a 25-year-old Jewish woman with a BA, an MBA, a CPA, and a PhD.

She was close to 300 pounds. So the Black kids in the class, in our infinite smart-ass wisdom, nicknamed her “Slim.” Not much older than us, she was part hard-ass teacher and part smart-ass teacher.

Class was a combination of intense accounting content and jokes flying across the room between her and mostly the Black students. The other students simply didn’t have the courage or the material to participate in the jokes. The thing about Slim was that as long as you did your homework, did the classwork, and got good grades, you could make as many smart-ass comments as you liked.

She took a special interest in me and was unimpressed with my 90-plus test scores, choosing instead to focus on the 10% I got wrong. (“Richard, 90% in college gets you an “A.” 90% at work gets you fired”). She would do a deep dive with me on the 10% I got wrong, usually ending our conversations with “What were you thinking here? Come on. You are smarter than this.”

Slim had no problem telling you in no uncertain terms her opinion on things. For example, a week after meeting my gorgeous college girlfriend with the 4.0 GPA, I was told quite bluntly that she wasn’t the “one” that was going to get me where I should be going.

Slim’s classes were intense, and the fact that I had her in back-to-back classes made my week even more intense. Both classes finished four weeks early with Slim cracking the whip on her students while finding time to shoot out or respond to smart-ass comments (Slim: “Explain to me how someone with a Jewish/Chinese last name comes out looking Black?” Me: “It’s a form of consolidation that only Jamaicans understand.”) I got two A’s and a look from her that was “OK, whatever. You need to work harder next time.”

Later in life, when I moved to the northern part of Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York, guess who was a close -by neighbor? Yup: Slim. Albeit 100 less pounds of her. She would grill me on how I was doing, mostly to make sure that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. After my responses, whether it was the great new job I got, or being a partner at a firm, she would give me this look like, “What, you want a cookie for your accomplishments? You are supposed to be doing this well.” When I asked her what she thought of my wife, Belinda, she replied, “She’ll do.”

Years later, Slim would come to the annual Levychin holiday party with her husband and kids. She gave my apartment her “This will do for now” look. At one party, I got a chance to share Slim war stories with her daughter, who laughed and told me Slim treated her the same way. That was simply how Slim was.

From Slim, I learned the importance of the quality and substance behind getting an ‘A” as opposed to doing the bare minimum to get an “A,” and how the hard work behind it trickled down to your fellow classmates and impacted their efforts. I learned the importance of showing up and giving back as opposed to merely showing up. And I learned that while talent is great, hard work combined with talent equals genius–and produces spectacular results.

So when I got that letter from Baruch College about the leadership award, the main person I kept thinking about was Slim. She had long since left my neighborhood, so I no longer had the pleasure of running into or seeing her except at our Levychin holiday parties.

She told me that she had lost even more weight–so much that the doctors told her to stop. I invited her to the awards ceremony, and she told me that she had her aerobics class that night and made no exceptions when it came to going. But, because it was a very special occasion and it was important, she would make an exception this time and would gladly attend the awards ceremony.

And that while she appreciates how I tell everyone I introduce her to how special she was to me, that she was only doing her job, and that I would have been quite fine without her. I told her I didn’t agree, and the bottom line is that she was there and I did quite fine with her and because of her. But as usual, there is no arguing with Slim, so I agreed to disagree. She simply just disagreed.

So Slim, this is me saying “Thank you” again. I know you hate it when I acknowledge you, particularly in public, but your impact on me as a teacher was both transformative and profound and continues to impact how I conduct myself as a professional.

With people like you who are in the lives of people like me, our only option in life is to achieve greatness. And your only option in life is to expect no less than greatness from us.

Sending light, love, and extreme gratitude to my college professor, Slim. And to all the teachers out there. You are deeply appreciated.

A follow-up, written a few years later

Slim used to throw parties where she would invite her current and past students.

She would always invite me, and I would never go because–well, have you ever partied with accountants? 

Finally, one year, I broke down and went.

Remember from the article that no matter how well you did, Slim would never compliment you. She would just keep pushing you. She was like that with her kids, one of whom ended up at Harvard as a doctor. The other was a scientist. 

So, I went to the party, and one of Slim’s (Diane’s) students came over and introduced herself to me . After she was done, I introduced myself to her.

Her eyes got as wide as saucers, and she blurted out: “You’re Richard Levychin?!? Oh my God, Diane talks about you all the time. She is so proud of you! She’s always telling the class we need to be like you!”

I was stunned.

Later that evening, I ran into Slim. She asked what I was up to (her way of making sure I was doing what I was supposed to be doing). After I was done, she gave me her standard “OK”.  Just before she turned and abruptly walked away (standard Slim practice), remembering what the young lady had said, I smiled and gave her a big hug. Which she took and then walked away without comment. Simply Slim being Slim.

A couple of years ago, Slim passed away from a brain tumor. Her husband contacted me to work on settling the family’s estate, which I did.

Rest in peace, Slim. And thank you for the difference you made and continue to make for me and your fellow students. Your legacy continues to pay us dividends to this day, which we enjoy and pass on to others. You will always be remembered.

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