Tag Archives: renssalaer polytechnic institute

The Hunt for Genius, Part 5: Three Elite Schools

15 Oct

I grew up in western Pennsylvania in a suburb of Johnstown, a small steel-making city. My father was from Baltimore and he worked with Bethlehem Mines, the mining subsidiary of the now-defunct Bethlehem Steel Corporation. My mother was a native of Johnstown, had been there for the 1937 flood, and was a full-time housewife and mother. That was typical for the time, the 1950s and into the 60s.

Mother loved gardening and she was an excellent cook and seamstress. Father was more intellectual than most engineers. In addition to playing golf, collecting stamps, and woodworking, he liked to read, both fiction and nonfiction. Both parents played the piano a bit and enjoyed playing contract bridge.

I spent many hours happily immersed in books from my father’s library (which contained many books from his father’s library): Arthur Conan Doyle, Rafael Sabatini, Rider Haggard, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain among them. I went to school in Richland Township. The schools were above average, but not special. They did not regularly send students to elite schools.

I’d applied to three Ivies, Harvard and Yale, which turned me down, and Princeton, which wait-listed me. I’d also applied to The Johns Hopkins University, my father’s alma mater. They accepted me. That my father had gone there no doubt weighed in the decision.

A classmate of mine, quarterback of the football team, was accepted to Princeton. I believe he was the first student from the school to go to an Ivy League school. I don’t think he was very happy there.

I can’t say that I was happy at Hopkins either. But then I didn’t go there for happiness. I went there to get an education, which I did.

The Johns Hopkins University

Hopkins is probably the most distinguished of the elite schools I’ve been associated with. I did my undergraduate work there between 1965 and ’69 and then completed a Master’s degree in Humanities between 1969 and ’72 while at the same time working in the Chaplain’s Office as an assistant. This was at the tail end of the Vietnam War era and I was a Conscientious Objector to military service. I thus had to perform civilian service instead of being drafted into the military. That’s why I worked in the Chaplain’s Office.

After a so-so high school outside a small city in western Pennsylvania the intellectual life at Hopkins came as a welcome revelation to me. Ideas seemed important. Well, sorta’. Continue reading

How I Found a Home in Jersey City and Got Steve Fulop Elected Mayor, Part 1

15 Jul

On that last, not really. I voted for him and made a small contribution to his campaign and I did one or two others things. But I didn’t spend 10, 20 or more hours a week volunteering for the campaign nor did I bundle big bucks for his campaign war chest. Still...

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What is home? That’s a tricky one. I think of Johnstown, Pa. as my hometown. I was born in Pittsburgh, but that’s only where the hospital was located. I spent the first three or four years of my life in Ellsworth, Pa., but I don’t remember those years at all. Johnstown is the place I remember. Actually, a suburb in Richland, Twp. just outside Johnstown proper.

That’s where I went to primary and secondary school and that’s where I returned during summers when I was at college in Baltimore (Johns Hopkins). When I graduated with my BA I remained in Baltimore, summers too, getting a master’s degree and working out my alternative service (those were the Vietnam years) in the Chaplain’s Office at Hopkins. At the same time my father’s job moved the family to Allentown, Pa. No more returning to Johnstown. My hometown could no longer serve as my home.

From Baltimore I moved to Buffalo to pursue a Ph.D. I was as comfortable living there as I’d been since living in Johnstown, and it’s only recently that I’ve felt that kind of comfort here in Jersey City.

Why? There’s an easy and obvious explanation for my comfort in Buffalo. Though I was studying in the English Department at SUNY (the State University of New York), and liked the department, my real intellectual home was in a running seminar hosted by Prof. David G. Hays, in linguistics. Hays and I clicked as I’ve never clicked with any other thinker. Continue reading