Memories of Mr. Milligan


Jack Forrest, Website Editor

I don’t believe chemistry is “my thing.” There is something about the combination of letters, numerals and formulas that boggles my mind. Russ Milligan didn’t care.

In fact, one of the five bullet points of his class protocol claimed “a response of ‘I don’t know’ will provoke the wrath of Mr. Milligan.” Though he was (partially) joking, he truly believed that his students had the ability to learn exactly what they needed to by simply paying attention and being dedicated to their work.

However, Milligan also knew what his students were like; most of them had issues with remaining focused, a fact he teased my class relentlessly for. His expectations didn’t come off as cruel or cold -they felt right, like he was justified in expecting us to know. He (reluctantly, I imagine) did allow for students to retake certain quizzes within a week.

Hearing Milligan teach felt less like a lecture than a conversation, in which chemistry happened to come up from time to time. Nearly every one of his students had a nickname (grubworm and burnsy are two that I can remember) within the first few weeks of class, as close friends have for each other after years of knowing each other.

There was also an item that was synonymous with Milligan’s being. Next to his desk, on a whiteboard, hung a neon orange stick. It was a little less than a meter in length and had a nylon handle on one end. The other end was worn away, as if it had been hit against the ground, or the desk of a sleeping student, for years. From time to time, he would begin class by whacking the stick against the wall, startling everyone in the class but amusing him. He called this unit of measure “one Milligan”.

Where Milligan thrived, though, was in demonstrations. One such display that stuck out to me involved a lighter and a chalkboard. On the wall closest to the door, there was a massive periodic table, listing every element from the noble gases to alkali metals. He took this table down for only two occasions: periodic table quizzes, so students wouldn’t have easy access to answers, and this demonstration. With the table out of harm’s way, Milligan sprayed deionized water onto the board from top to bottom. Then, he flicked the lights out. With a click of his lighter, the board lit up for mere seconds. Now, I’m sure there was a chemistry-related reason for this stunt, but I knew the real reason he sprayed his board with deionized water. Everyone in the class knew why, too. Milligan had an excuse to light something on fire, and he wasn’t going to pass it up.

Chemistry taught me about the attraction between a nucleus and its electrons. The closer the electron is to the nucleus, the more attraction it feels towards the center. The same could be said in rm. 108.

Next to his desk, closer to him than the chalkboard or the Milligan stick, was a wall. On the wall were dozens of photos. In each and every one, dating back to his early years of teaching, Russ Milligan was standing and smiling with his students.

I hope the students who had Mr. Milligan can keep their memories of him as close to them as he did theirs.