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Updated by Q4Colleges on Oct 10, 2017
Headline for Interesting and Inspirational Essays written by Faculty and Staff
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Interesting and Inspirational Essays written by Faculty and Staff

Q4Colleges collects interesting and inspirational stories from the faculty and staff at colleges.


From Street Gang to Ph. D. – It is Easier to Work Harder than Get Smarter.

I graduated from high school with a 69 average, which at least was better than all my friends in my Brooklyn street gang. My high school counselor told my mother that I was just not “college material.”

I Have a Creed Instead of a Mission

There is this lovely period when you are working on a Ph.D. after you have gotten all your coursework and tests out of the way when nobody cares what you do; it is kind of an intellectual romp all over the place.

The Professor Was a Prison Guard

When I was 20, I left college and took a job in a prison. I went from reading the great books as a Columbia University undergraduate to locking doors and counting inmates as a New York State correction officer. Since I’m an English professor now, people never entirely believe me when the issue comes up, probably because of the horn-rimmed glasses and felicitous implementation of Latinate words. I fancied I’d be like George Orwell, who took a job as an Imperial Police officer in Burma and wrote about it in “Shooting an Elephant.” I thought I’d go “up the river” to the “big house” and write “Shooting an Inmate” or some such thing. It didn’t quite happen that way, although as a professor, I’ve worked 14 of 16 years in state institutions.

My Mission

Beth: Well I was thinking about it and it sounds like a Miss America answer; I hate to say it but it’s really true. My personal mission is to make use of all the talents I was given, and try and help and inspire people to do the same. And to raise a child that has the same sense of caring about community.

How I Became Interested in Writing

I got interested in writing because in my first try for a PhD at Harvard, I gradually couldn’t write.  I had to quit before I was kicked out and felt like a complete failure because I had so much invested in my image of myself as a good student.  When I went back to grad school five years later (at Brandeis) I gradually learned what became my philosophy of writing:  I can’t write right, but I can write wrong;  and then I can make it right.  It’s too hard to take a mess in the head and turn it into coherence on paper;  but it’s not so hard to take a mess on paper and turn it into coherence on paper.