Campus Uncommons: Catherine McNeela

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Catherine McNeela distinctly remembers the day more than 20 years ago when she realized her purpose in life. She had just decided to leave her acting career in New York to teach at Elon. She was sitting in baggage claim at LaGuardia Airport on her way to North Carolina, holding Blanche DuBois, her West Highland Terrier named for the female lead in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Out of nowhere, a woman approached her.

“She asked me where I was going, and I said I was going to Elon to start a music theatre program,” recalls McNeela, the William S. Long Professor of Performing Arts. “Her eyes filled up with tears and she told me that while she wasn’t a drama major in college, it was a drama teacher who had made the biggest difference in her life. “She told me: ‘if you can influence your students’ lives in the way that teacher influenced my life, you’ll know you’re doing the right thing.’”

If the multitude of alumni who consider her a best friend, invite her to stand as a bridesmaid in their weddings or ask to Skype with her on Thanksgiving morning are any indication, McNeela’s been doing the right thing for more than two decades.

“To see my students succeed every day is my success,” she says, her eyes filling with tears. “I look back on that day in the airport and I see that woman as an angel. I was meant to be here.”

‘Campus Uncommons’ appears in every edition of The Magazine of Elon. To see the latest edition, click here. What faculty or staff member do you think is uncommon? Send us a suggestion!

BY Kristin M. Simonetti ’05