Go Ask Alumni

Sine Qua Non

We asked alumni to fill in the blanks: If I hadn’t learned x in the College, I wouldn’t have y.

Illustration by Matthew Elliott

If I had not learned to read at multiple levels in the College, I wouldn't have become a Potter Pundit. Between Western Civilization with Karl Weintraub, Aristotle's Ethics with Leon Kass, Plato's Apology with Allan Bloom, Homer's Iliad with Robert Redfield, Virgil's Aeneid with Ralph Johnson, and Thucydides's Peloponnesian War with Arthur Adkins, I learned to read closely, for point of view and for depth at the allegorical and anagogical levels. In Latin and Greek for the most part, as a Classics major, which saved me from the deconstructionists in the English department—and prepared me to read Harry Potter, the work of a Classics wonk and French major writing alchemical drama to deliver Coleridgean epistemology.

"In brief, no UChicago education, no ability to interpret Potter mania through the lens of Eliade specifically and of the Great Books in general. And a lot less fun in my life! Thank you, UChicago, my Chicagwarts."

—John Granger, AB'83

If I hadn't learned to go to the disc while playing ultimate at UChicago, I'd never get a cab in NY. And if I hadn't learned to write at the University of Chicago, I would never have been able to found and grow my companies. This will make me sound old, but that's okay. Few people today write well; poor teaching compounded with the new language of social media creates a void of proper personal and business language skills in both written and verbal form. I'm forever grateful to my professors and fellow students for teaching me how to write, critique, and edit. I take great pride when a client compliments my writing.

—Linda Sedloff Orton, AB'87

If I hadn't learned about choice in conflict from Don Levine's Conflict Theory and Aikido in the College, I wouldn't have the depth of love and compassion for myself or others in the struggle to find meaning in this conflict-riddled world. Thank you, Don. I try to pass it on as best I can.

—Dawn Roscoe, AB'01

If I hadn't learned to appreciate fine art, classical music, and great literature, in the course I didn't want to take, Humanities I, my life would be so much the poorer for it. I actually taught a seminar on Impressionist art!

—Robert B. Bloom, SB'58

If I hadn't learned to write in the College, I obviously would have learned how somewhere else. But then there wouldn't have been moments like these: My roommate's Saturday night tutorial on structuring papers like pyramids (inverted and otherwise) while I waited for my very first white half at Harold's. Stumbling across The John McPhee Reader in the Reg stacks and adopting the working methods described in the introduction as my own—overkill perhaps for a five-page essay on The Decameron, but when something nets you your first A, you stick with it. Turning knobs and pushing buttons at the Museum of Science and Industry (back when general admission was free) as I struggled with a difficult transition in a paper on The Adventures of Augie March. (Maybe I should have hiked the three blocks to Bellow's place and asked for his help.) Twice sitting through William Veeder's optional (but you'd be a fool to skip it) session on writing the perfect 20-pager. Roller-skating around the Point at dawn, hashing out the conclusion to a paper due that morning. And don't even get me going on Little Red Schoolhouse.

To paraphrase a line—Alan Rickman's, in Die Hard—that always brought appreciative hoots at Palevsky: Benefits of a Chicago education.

—Sean Carr, AB'90