On Commencement Day, In Honor of My Favorite Student

In honor of today’s commencement ceremonies now occurring in the pouring rain, I thought that rather than slog down the mountain to endure those miserable conditions with my students, I’d rather stay dry at home, recline in the easy chair before the crackling fire, sip a scotch, and write a blog commemorating My Favorite Student (M.F.S) from the class of 2009.

In particular, I want to thank M.F.S. for:

  1. Showing up to that first 8 am class in Twilight Hall four years ago, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and remaining awake for at least the first ten minutes of my opening lecture on why you should study American politics;
  2. Having the chutzpah (translation: short-sightedness), after listening to my lecture on the evils of a legal career (the cocaine addiction, the estranged children, the massive debt, the adultery with the pool boy, the long hours writing briefs defending the parent company of the Exxon Valdez [“It was just a little spill! In Alaska, for god’s sake!”] and, of course, the terminal cancer) to ask me for a letter of recommendation to law school;
  3. Taking the initiative to ask your parents, 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- “You remember the words, but you’ve forgotten the meaning!” – from the Star Trek episode “The Omega Glory” (season 2): “Who’s Captain Kirk?”;
  4. Defending your right to wear an Evil Empire (i.e., New York Yankees’) cap to my class – and never, ever, ever making that mistake again;
  5. Understanding 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;
  6. Giving 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;
  7. Understanding the difference between a prediction based on well-tested political science model (Obama will win the presidential election) from an educated guess based on atheoretical  political science correlation (Clinton will win the Democratic nomination);
  8. Learning, from my grading policy, that 80% of success in life comes from just showing up;
  9. Realizing that my political views and partisan affiliation are exactly the same as yours;
  10. Repeatedly entering my blog contests for a chance to win an “It’s the Fundamentals, Stupid!” t-shirt.
  11. Not commenting on the state of my office;
  12. Realizing that when I called on 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);
  13. Acknowledging that in the celebrated Dry-Dickinson exchange regarding Sarah Palin, I had the stronger argument;
  14. Understanding 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.)
  15. For enduring 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, and instead make it an educational event that explains why the election turned out as it did (and for bringing me free beer all night long);

And, finally, for teaching 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 pneumonia today (did I mention the fire is warm?), 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.


  1. Hey, congrats!

    These … words … were … not written … only for the Yangs … but for the KONGS as well. They MUST apply to EVERYONE or they mean NOTHING! Do you UNDERSTAND?

    Captain Kirk’s recitation of the Preamble has 31,000 views already on YouTube.


    And the Presidential Power blog?

    Coincidentally (and ok, it’s the poor man’s substitute for scotch) it’s grappa that some friends and I have been sipping tonight. Oui, precisement. Avec un certain frangrance de paint thinner!

    It was DC-style all the way … kickin’ back on a very public porch, a few blocks from U Street (site of the spontaneous Inauguration jam you posted about), with the medevac helicopters still buzzing in all night to Washington Hospital next door to the Old Soldiers’ Home … which happens to be the only green acreage in the immediate vicinity … all of it walled off to the public behind iron grillework. I guess where you stand can depend on where you sit. A rainy commencement day up at Club Midd is a pretty appealing thought.

    Yes, congratulations, to you, Matt — and to Bert, to Kateri, to Murray and to all the rest of your department. School’s out. Job well done.

    Will this summer continue to see a flurry of prognostica … errr … of incisive, fact-based, fair-and-balanced analysis posted up on the Presidential Power blog? Surely there’s no better excuse than this to leave teetering office piles unstraightened!

    Each of these posts has been a delight to read — far more memorable than the daily fodder. Bet they have been fun to write. As a loyal reader, thanks for spreading your ideas far and wide.

    – M

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