Learning as Revelation
In college, during my senior-year courses on The Romantic Poets and The Gilded Age, Jere Wallace stood out. He was what's known in today's parlance as an adult learner, and I remember him as a friendly guy with a rumbling laugh and salt-and-pepper beard, who had decided at the "advanced" age of 50 or so to head back to the classroom for a BA in English.
Jere stood out for more than his graying hair, however: The man was always prepared. Friday mornings would inevitably find the rest of us shuffling into class, exhausted from a garden variety of collegiate Thursday night activities--drama rehearsals, frat parties, student newspaper deadlines--and there Jere would sit, crisply eager to pick apart Tennyson's use of iambic pentameter. Jere didn't so much read poetry and literature as drink it in. When he recited Gerard Manley Hopkins's "The Windhover," there was a joy-bordering-on-reverence in his voice that left me feeling, by comparison, bereft. My intentions were good. I always meant to spend enough time with The Poets to fall in with them, but there was inevitably something more pressing that got in the way--a broken romance to recover from, a student council position to run for, a campus event to cover.
I thought of Jere recently after reading A Boy No More, alumnus Pax Davis's moving account of life at Hopkins in the years just after World War II. It's a compelling memoir (you'll find an excerpt here), and it offers a wonderful window on a unique period in university history: a time when seasoned war veterans, financed largely through the G.I. Bill, sat elbow-to-elbow with 18- and 19-year-old "kids." These vets were mature guys who had come of age on the battlefield, and they brought their hard-won wisdom to the classroom. "Courses were not simply unpleasant chores to be done, well or poorly, in order to rise another rung; they were windows on the world, on life," writes Davis.
I talked with many such vets at the Class of '49s 50th Reunion last spring, and with some of the "kids" who were their classmates. Journalist and author Sid Offit '50, a "local Baltimore boy" at the time, cheerfully falls into the latter category. He recalls being mightily impressed--and enriched--by the serious-mindedness of his older classmates. "It was startling how sophisticated some of these people were in their intellects," he told me.
In some ways, I've come to conclude, it's too bad that the undergraduate college years come when they do, on the cusp of adulthood. I can only wonder how much more I might have gotten out of The Romantic Poets had I, like Jere Wallace and the '49ers on the GI Bill, first done some real living of my own.
Sue De Pasquale, Editor
RETURN TO SEPTEMBER 1999 TABLE OF CONTENTS.