On Commencement Day, In Honor of My Favorite Student

It’s that time again.  As I have done ever since I started this blog in the late 1950’s, I take time out on Middlebury’s commencement day to sit down in my recliner before the fireplace,  light the used motor oil, pour a deep glass of single malt (thanks Paul), and raise a toast to you, My Favorite Student (MFS).

You know who you are.

You showed up at that first 8 am class in Twilight Hall, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and remained awake for at least the first ten minutes of my opening lecture on why you should study American politics.  Moreover, you kept coming to the class even after the Political Science department, in its collective wisdom, loosened the requirements so that a basic course in American politics was no longer necessary to obtain a political science degree.  (That’s right, Parents.  And you paid over $200,000 for this education! Don’t blame me – I voted against it. Write your Congressman.  Or Trustee);

Your comments to this site made the Presidential Power blog one of the top 50 blogs for  political science students .  (Admittedly, this from a site that offers “online degrees”.  And there’s probably only 50 blogs dealing with political science, but nonetheless….besides, the progressive FiredogLake website likes us too!)

You listened to my lecture on the consequences of a legal career (the rhinoplasty to repair damage from cocaine inhalation, the estranged children, the massive debt, the adultery with the pool boy, the long hours writing briefs defending BP [“It was just a little spill! In Louisiana, for god’s sake!”] and, of course, the terminal cancer) and still asked me for a letter of recommendation to law school;

You wondered, after hearing my lecture on the American Revolution, during which I quote from memory and with perfect inflection Captain Kirk’s famous speech about the Constitution– “We, the PEOPLE!… Down the centuries you have slurred the meaning of the words!”: “Who’s Captain Kirk?”;

You understand why, despite your parents’ skepticism, political science is considered the “queen” of the social sciences, and why four years studying it has better prepared you to improve the world than if you had chosen any other major (but especially economics) – unless you blow it and go to law school;

You didn’t take my word for it, but asked for evidence;

You didn’t make me explain “Teabagging” during my lecture on the Tea Party movement;

You gave me a gift of a bottle of scotch after the final class lecture that wasn’t Old Smugglers and didn’t come in a plastic bottle;

You learned, from my grading policy, that 90% of success in life comes from just showing up;

You figured out that my political views and partisan affiliation are exactly the same as yours;

You entered my blog contests for a chance to win an “It’s the Fundamentals, Stupid!” t-shirt, and then sent me a picture of you wearing your prize.

You stifled a gasp when entering my office, and managed not to fixate on the coffee stains and food remnants.

You laughed at my jokes (“So these two hunters from Ripton went searching for bear….”) even after hearing them four times.

You understood that when I hectored you in class, it was to make a broader teaching point, and not (necessarily) to put you on the spot, (although your discomfiture was an added benefit);

You acknowledged that in the celebrated Dry-Dickinson exchange regarding Sarah Palin, I had the stronger argument;

You remembered not to bring your Strawberry, U-Pad or other handheld device to exams;

You wrote me a seemingly endless stream of emails before exams, asking all the questions that the other students wanted to ask but were too lazy (or nervous) to do so;

You realize that when we next see each other, I will have completely forgotten your name, but will remember everything you ever said to, or wrote for me, during your entire four years at Middlebury.  (Which means at our next meeting you must greet me by first telling me who you are.)

You compensated for my failed efforts, in the biannual election night presentations at the Grille with my colleague Bert Johnson, to avoid allowing the event to turn into a giant pep rally for a party or candidate, by bringing me free beer all night long;

And, finally, you taught me more than you realize during your four years here.  Students often don’t appreciate that our interactions with them provide the impetus and the spark for keeping up with developments in our field of interest, as well as learning about related events (like how to acquire The Cable).  The questions you ask me often became the source of lectures (or blogs!)  In short, education at Middlebury is an interactive process – a two-way street – from which I benefit as much, or more, than do you. That is why I stay in this job despite the fact that, as you all know, I work for free.

So, assuming you don’t get heat stroke today, let me end by sending you – My Favorite Student – best wishes in all your future endeavors.  Do stay in touch, and remember to thank your parents for getting you vaccinated, for rousing you out of bed for all those 5 am trips to the skating rink; for the endless piano lessons; for reminding you to finish those application essays; for instilling a strong sense of values based on discipline, hard work, and rooting for Boston sports teams; and for forking over the $76,000 a year (none of which went to me) to attend Middlebury College.  They did all this because they love you and they want to be sure you don’t have to move back home again.

And parents, you should realize that although you won’t ever see that money again, and that your kids are in fact going to move back home for a bit, it was money well spent.  Contrary to what you probably believe deep in your soul, you have not squandered your retirement, and your child did not waste four years by majoring in political science.  Read the papers.  Listen to the news.  More than any other discipline, it is politics that most determines whether tomorrow will be an improvement over today.  Your child has a head start in fulfilling that promise.

So, to paraphrase the late, great Richard Neustadt, “Trust the kids.”  After all, you were one too and look how your life turned out!  (Ok, never mind ….)

P.S. To My Favorite Student: If you would like to continue to get direct email notifications of new presidential power blog postings, please remember to provide me with an updated email before your Middlebury email expires. And the same goes for you parents out there who also wish to get blog notifications.  Unlike the Middlebury alumni office, I’ll never ask for money.  (But I won’t turn down an endowed chair!)

Good luck, stay in touch, and may your scotch bottle never run dry…. .


  1. I was wondering if I’d get a notification about a “MFS” blogpost today. Glad to see some things will never change despite all the chaos those poor graduates are (most likely) about to encounter. Don’t tell me, you acquired The Cable? Or learned how to? Seriously about the lack of a requirement for a basic course in American politics? Seriously? Seriously. Which Congressman do a I write? Shameful. And as always, it’s nice to know we students have an impact on professors, even if some don’t remember names. Sounds like another good year up in Vermont. Cheers

  2. Tarsi – Alas I do not yet have The Cable. Nor The Dish. But I do have a television that has digital reception. Which means I now get fewer stations than ever, thanks to the government mandate.

    And yes, it’s true, poli sci majors need not take any intro course of any type in American – they need only one American course overall to get a degree.

    On the positive side, that means only the truly committed – or the truly insane – Americanists will now trudge down to Twilight at 8 a.m.

  3. You’re welcome for the scotch…it was great that I was part of most of those memories of the MSF. I will definitely be sending my updated email to you whenever I get it and will try to keep making presentations.

    By the way..I’ll be up ASAP for that drink you owe me.

    Also, only real Americans proudly march (trudge) down to twilight at 4am for American politics…or was it 8am?

  4. Darn it… I forgot to chip in for the bottle of scotch!!! Remind me next fall! Maybe I can smuggle one from China:)

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