Tradition in the Key of Murray Dry

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Murray Dry, Charles A. Dana Professor of Political Science, is a living legend here at Middlebury College. He wears a three-piece suit to class, calls students by their last names, and yells at the top of his lungs to accentuate a point. I’ve taken two of Professor Dry’s courses – American Political Regime and American Constitutional Law – and today he was our substitute teacher for a political philosophy course I am taking. We’re reading Machiavelli’s The Prince, which Professor Dry has read hundreds of times. He has written a tome on the whiteboard and plans to run through every bullet point in an hour and a quarter. (He won’t even get close – Professor Dry is notorious for keeping students late and there’s always shared laughter in the room when he insists he won’t do it “this time.”) His voice is getting louder and louder with every minute that passes. He covers material far beyond what was assigned for class that day. He says, “I’m surprised that any of you could put the book down!”

And I realize that some things just never, ever get old.

Professor Dry will never be tired of The Prince. He’s obsessed with it. I’ve heard him obsess about upwards of fifty books now in my time at Middlebury, and not only am I not tired of him obsessing, but the obsession itself is also infectious. “There was once a young woman in my class who broke off a date with a young man to read The Prince,” he says, making a joke about how we should all have that kind of passion for the work.

But he’s kind of not kidding. He’s kind of that guy.

And I find myself being taken in for the umpteenth time. He is asking a tricky question and I jump in. He acknowledges me with a wry smile and a long, drawn-out “Ms. Dicker.” I give it my best swing, and as he fills in the blanks of my understanding, my features twist in comprehension. He yells: “I SEE MS. DICKER MAKING A FACE LIKE SHE UNDERSTANDS THIS DIFFERENTLY! GOOD! YES! THAT’S RIGHT!”

That “eureka” moment from a student still excites him to the point of yelling. 45 years at Middlebury and he’s still yelling about The Prince like it’s a football game.

And you will see that kind of enthusiasm at our football games, too. It’s everywhere, and it’s everlasting. It’s the rejuvenating feeling of tradition: that is something is worth doing, it’s worth doing over and over again. As we enter Homecoming Weekend, I’m reminded of the enthusiasm alumni feel for Midd and how infectious that is, too. They come from all different sectors of the post-graduate world and reflect on how their Middlebury experience has changed them, shaped them, inspired them. It’s like going back to The Prince and experiencing it anew for Murray Dry. And for some alumni, The Prince elicits that same feeling partly because of him.

Students find that energy in all areas at Middlebury. They find it like a warm blanket waiting to greet them. They come back to it: to their books, to their friends, to this place. And even when it’s unexpected, they find something new every time.

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