Shortly after I graduated from Williams, when I was studying at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität in Freiburg, Germany, I approached a professor lecturing on Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival to ask her about a concept in that epic (I believed was) similar to one in Beowulf. “Approach” may not be the best way to describe how I sought to contact this scholar. It was more like chased down. I had to rush after her at the close of the class. Unlike her peers in the Purple Valley, she did not stay after to field questions from students, leaving almost immediately after she excused us.

When I did track her down, she seemed almost stunned by my intellectual interest in the epic–and the comparison I was making (without her prompting) to another great medieval poem.

One could say that is the difference not between Williams and the university in Freiburg, but between an American and a European university.  And to be sure, I often enjoyed conversations with professors at  the various graduate institutions where I have studied on this side of the Atlantic, even dropping by to visit a law school professor when I was in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend.

Yet, we didn’t just have conversations with our professors at Williams.  We often had spirited exchanges, touching on the subject matter of our courses, student life at a small college and even about our career goals or the news of the day.

I was reminded of that when I related the above anecdote to Gail Henderson ’86 while visiting her in Charlotte Monday night.  And like our days at Williams, we ended up talking well into the night, sharing stories of our lives since college and discussing the various challenges we have faced over the years.  And despite our advancing age, we approached such matters as we did while undergraduates, trying to balance our experiences in the world with the ideas we encountered in the books we read and even in the conversations we enjoyed.

It does seem those conversations were a defining aspect of Williams.  

When I stayed with friends from ’84 in Jersey, we also recalled the late night (and often day-time) conversations we had at Wood House.  

It really did seem that our educational experience leant itself to such exchanges–more often than not with those from different backgrounds and from different political “persuasions.”

NB:  Edited this to include Gail’s name when I received her permission to do so.

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