I guess I never told this story before, but I just finished grades, so why not?
I went to a small liberal arts college in northern Indiana called Anderson University. It was the flagship school of the Church of God-Anderson denomination, and it housed the denomination’s School of Theology. I was very interested in the intellectual traditions of Christianity, so I took a religion or philosophy course every year. Biblical Interpretation (Hermeneutics), Archeological History of the Ancient Near East, Intro to the Bible, Practicing Philosophy. One day, I was walking in the Valley on campus and ran into two of my religion professors, Dr. Merle Strege (Hermeneutics) and my Intro to the Bible professor whose name escapes me. I forget much of that conversation–might even be misremembering the whole context–but we were talking about careers and plans and I remember Strege saying, “Hey, you could become a professor.”
The thought had literally never occurred to me.
I didn’t know how this worked. I didn’t know what you had to do or who was qualified. Sure, it sounded like the perfect life. Strege used to say that he had gamed the system, because he used to pay them so that he could read books and talk about them, and now they paid him to read books and talk about them.
I never understood that part of academia. I wanted to know stuff, sure, but I also wanted to solve problems, and I always thought it a little strange the way my professor described academia–reading books and talking about them. Surely there was some material good academics should produce beyond reading books and talking about them? And that line of thought has continued to spark many conversations with colleagues to this day.
But anyway, I learned at that point that you had to do graduate school–again, they might as well said I had to gazorpazorp because I had no idea what that entailed. I didn’t pursue it either. I had a different career trajectory in mind, and I didn’t want to mess it up with trying something I didn’t even know much about and that seemed like such a long, long shot. I mean, c’mon, you have to be a genius to be a professor, right?
Pretty sure I’m living proof that isn’t true.
Long-story short, I got to a point in my life where that long, long shot seemed to make sense for me–not just to me, but to my girlfriend-now-wife and my family. So I took the leap and applied to a graduate program, got in, and the rest is history. But I’ll never forget that professor who planted that seed, lit that spark. I haven’t written him, but I plan to over the break just to say thanks.
I ran into Strege at Homecoming one year. He didn’t remember me, but he was still gracious, if a tad in a hurry. It’s funny that someone who made such an impact probably doesn’t remember that moment at all.