In a stirring ceremony last Tuesday at Creighton University, former Ralston High School French teacher Jan Lund was conferred the second-highest ranking in France’s most prestigious chivalric order for educators and artists.
Lund, who taught 21 years at RHS and is now an adjunct professor of French at Creighton, learned earlier this year of her promotion to the rank of Officier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, an order founded in 1808 by Emperor Napoleon I. She was made a Chevalier (Knight) of the Ordre in 1998, a first for a French teacher in Nebraska, and she is now the first and only Nebraskan to hold the Officier rank.
The award is given internationally to people whose work has been dedicated to promoting French language and culture abroad. Lund joins such Americans with an Officier’s rank as photographer and peace activist Pirie MacDonald, philosopher Arnold Davidson and literary critic Jeffrey Mehlman.
In an acceptance address to friends, family and colleagues, Lund spoke of the development of her appreciation of all things French, dating back to her graduate school days at the Sorbonne in Paris. Subsequently, Lund led RHS student trips to France more than 20 times and is now an integral part of the Creighton in Paris program, teaching about French art and art history.
“It has just been a thrill to take students abroad to Paris,” she said. “Teaching at Creighton has been the frosting on quite a cake. To be teaching in Paris and see a whole new generation make that city their own and fall in love with it like I did in the 1960s, it’s one of those intrinsic rewards of this profession.”
The recognition was bestowed upon Lund by Denis Quénelle, cultural attaché for the French Consulate in Chicago.
Quénelle also spoke of Lund’s vast affinity for French culture and the way she has transferred her Francophone zeal to thousands of students.
“This is an award most certainly deserved,” he said. “You have dedicated your entire career to teaching French and appreciating French culture. You have the rare gift of making your passion for French culture positively contagious.”
Lund said the promotion within the Ordre was made possible by her continued involvement in academia at Creighton. Her continuation in teaching allowed her to be nominated and several colleagues wrote letters backing her nomination, compiled in a dossier delivered to the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.
“As I read these letters, it’s truly amazing,” Quénelle said. “All these letters were describing the achievements of just one person.”
Calling Lund French culture’s “Best ambassador in Omaha and in Nebraska,” Quénelle cited Lund’s résumé, including her 1985 Nebraska Foreign Language Educator of the Year Award and the Nebraska French Teacher of the Year Award she won in 1996. Lund continues to stay active in the local chapter of the Alliance Française and presents guest lectures at Joslyn Art Museum on French art.
To put a fitting trill on the event, Creighton vocal music performance student Chelsey Hill performed “L’Heure exquise,” a piece by Venezuelan-born French composer Reynaldo Hahn. Stephen Sheftz, a professor of choral music, accompanied on piano.
Continuing with her remarks, Lund thanked her colleagues from Ralston and Creighton, many of whom attended the event, filling a room in the Mike and Josie Harper Center and doing their best to effect at least a little of the language in their greetings, rolling out “Bonjours” and “Parlez-vous.” She also thanked her son, Alex, who provided the entertainment at Lund’s installation as a Chevalier in 15 years ago.
Finally, Lund thanked her husband, Blake, who, she said, has “allowed our home to become permeated by all things French,” and who accompanied many of those high school trips. And while the French flew among the cognoscenti — or connoisseurs, if you will — Lund elected to go with Yiddish for le mot juste.
“I believe in bashert,” she said in describing the role of her partner in over 40 years of marriage. “That idea of a soulmate, of ‘meant to be’ ... With the fingerprints of the divine all over it.”