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Monday, March 17, 2008

Small World!

So I was browsing when I should be studying, and I visited Happy Catholic, who happens to be a graphic designer. Said Happy Catholic also recently herself discovered something she designed and linked to the image at

I followed the link to Amazon to see Julie D.'s work, and upon looking at the authors, I was given pause. They are Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker.

You may recognize the name of Scott Hahn...what faithful Catholic doesn't? He's EVERYWHERE! And I've heard him speak...his conversion story and his exposition on the Mass is incredible. But I'm not interested in discussing him tonight. (Sorry Mr. Hahn, no offense.)

The other author, Benjamin Wiker...that name was familiar to me. Immediately, to be certain, I googled his name and St. Mary's University in Winona, MN. One of the links provided both his curriculum vitae and his photo. (As an aside...what IS it with outdated or inaccurate PhD photos? I don't know a SINGLE professor that has a photo that actually resembles him or her!) So, as it were, I would not have recognized Dr. Wiker from the photo provided...he grew a beard (which seems to be a "mature Catholic theologian" kindof thing to do), and he's not wearing his trademark bow tie.

I remember Dr. Wiker, whom I had for a Senior year core class. At St. Mary's, we had both "Gen Eds" and "Core Curriculum". The latter was actually useful to us, and if I remember correctly, I had Dr. Wiker for "Capstone" which included a great number of readings from Alexis de Tocqueville. I deeply wish I had retained those tomes...and right now I'm grateful I still have my papers from that class. Although they are dismal.

Dr. Wiker actually reminded me of some of my Law Enforcement Skills instructors; he was disciplined, he was intelligent, and it was his way or the highway (translated as: bad grade). But he was merciful; we wrote papers, turned in drafts, and he made sure we knew what he was expecting. So if we were short of the mark, we had very specific directions to follow. And as a result, he had NO MECY on the final paper. He expected intelligent, concise opinions supported by our reading and what we learned in lecture.

I still bring lessons I learned in that class into conversations, especially with liberals.

I would argue that Dr. Wiker's class was among the most important I ever had, and the practical applications of what he taught is helping me today in my Graduate School papers. Maybe I should argue that if it were not for him, I would not be able to meet the expectations of Douglas Bushman, whom I have had as a professor for three classes thus far, and will meet again.

Dr. Wiker was legendary...from the time I arrived at St. Mary's to the time I left, his name was everywhere. As I recall, he is not a tall man, and other students spoke of his formality and his bow ties. But they also spoke in reverential terms of his intelligence and the value of his courses.

Believe me...coming from an undergrad student, that's HUGE.

I remember walking into his class with trepidation, and I remember taking notes (which I likely still have), I remember our fascinating class discussions about Tocqueville, and how he brought the text to life in terms applicable to what we were seeing at that very time. I remember his mustache, and his bow-ties. He was the quintessential professor. I was, all at once, captivated by him and put off, drawn in through his engaging manner, but terrified of his intelligence.

Sad to say, I don't remember any personal interactions, and my rough drafts (which I have saved) are full of red ink in his own hand. But I liked him a lot...we all did. He was an excellent professor and when we were in his class, we knew we were getting what we paid for. He was one of the professors that made me believe that getting a B.A was not enough...that higher education was indeed worthwhile. Because I wanted to measure up, I wanted the academic confidence that he exuded. He was one what made me believe that I could be more than I was, and he clearly expected something more of me. I DIDN'T get that feeling from most of my profs.

It wasn't that they weren't good professors...I received an EXCELLENT undergraduate education (apart from theological formation, isolated to one particular class and professor). Maybe, though, I'm not being fair; when looking back at some of my professors, some of them did clearly expect me to go on, and they encouraged me greatly. (I actually think that maybe I'm a disappointment to some of them.)

But Dr. Wiker taught as though he expected ALL of us to go on to further education. The status quo wasn't enough...we were to meet a particular academic standard and if we didn't, he considered it to be a personal failure.

THAT is the way to teach! He engaged us, he forced us to work hard, and refused to let "Senioritis" get in the way of what we needed to learn in order to survive in the modern world, whether practically or in academia.

I graduated in 1995 (a semester early...I was class of 1996 formally.) Fourteen years later, here I am, finally a Graduate Student, and I think that I have, in part, Dr. Wiker to thank.

I'm glad he is doing so well, and I only wish I could thank him in person for the impact he has had on my life. Maybe one day he will happen upon my blog (not likely), or maybe I'll attend a lecture where he happens to be the speaker (more likely). He won't remember me...I have NEVER been a memorable person or student. But if any of his students stop by...BE THANKFUL for what he is teaching you, and be sure to ask him about Alexis de Tocqueville. Even if he is teaching you'll get brownie points. And if you tie Tocqueville into'll be offered a fellowship if he has anything to do with it.

And if anyone is looking for a gift for me for my upcoming summer birthday...I'd like to have Alexis de Tocqueville's works again. Even better if the volume is signed by Dr. Benjamin Wiker.

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