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Old Gold & Black

Old Gold & Black

Scott Kull: The new Director of Athletics
Abigail Taylor, Contributing Writer • April 16, 2024

Breaking the barrier

Dr. J. David Alvis specializes in political theory, constitutional law and American politics (left) and Dr. Jeremey Henkel specializes in non-western philosophy and also instructs Tae Kwon Do (right).
Dr. J. David Alvis specializes in political theory, constitutional law and American politics (left) and Dr. Jeremey Henkel specializes in non-western philosophy and also instructs Tae Kwon Do (right).

By: Kelsey Aylor, Staff Writer

“To the first year student, the anxiety of the fall semester seems immense. You’ve been cast into a sea of unknowns trying to anchor your life in a new group of friends, wondering if your professors will be kind and hospitable, or you’re contemplating what is actually in that food being served in Burwell.”

The above quote from Dr. J. David Alvis, associate professor of government, rings true not only for first-year students, but for many returning students as well. In this installment of “Breaking the barrier,” Wofford faculty divulges more stories from their younger years in the hopes that their awkward encounters can put the nervous student at ease.

Alvis attended a small liberal arts college where his father was a professor. He knew the campus, the faculty and many other students.

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“I was still worried about how I would be received among my classmates,” says Alvis. “Within a few weeks, I found out.”

According to Alvis, the Registrar possessed a wicked sense of humor and placed him in his father’s course on Shakespeare. It was an early morning class, and he was seated near a window where the sun entered the room “at just the precise angle to induce sleep.”

“Hearing my father’s voice and Elizabethan English helped facilitate a deep slumber for the entire period,” says Alvis. “After a few weeks of this, my father finally asked: ‘Why do you fall asleep in my course?’ I was hubristic and inarticulate, so I told him: ‘You are boring.’ He then asked, ‘Why do you find my lectures so insipid?’ I responded: ‘I don’t know what insipid means, but you are boring.’ ‘Ok,’ he said, ‘Why do you find me boring?’ I thought I was clever (I wasn’t), so I retorted: ‘Too many words; not enough pictures!’”

The next day, Alvis’ father brought to class a “visual aid.” It was a picture of him — naked at the age of three, in a bathtub, covered in chicken pox. The picture was then passed around to the class to illustrate something.

“Following this excruciatingly embarrassing presentation and the class having been dismissed, he turned to me and said: ‘You know son, you were right – a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.’”

His advice: “Unless you have a parent with a demonic sense of humor teaching here, and I know you don’t have a heartless Registrar, put your anxieties to rest and enjoy the opportunity to undertake this new adventure in your life. Welcome, and good luck to the class of 2019 and all returning students.”

Dr. Jeremy Henkel, professor of philosophy, had a difficult time writing his name as child and, to this day, is reminded of the fact.

“I knew how to spell my name, but it took long enough to write each letter that I would get lost. The effect was that I had to ‘spell’ my name six times in my head just to write ‘Jeremy’ one time,” says Henkel. “Then came my grandfather’s birthday. My mom had gotten him a birthday card for my brother and me to sign, and apparently I was taking too long for my brother’s taste. ‘Just write it,’ he said. ‘It’s easy. J – e – r – e – m– y. Come on. Hurry up.’ I tried my best to focus, ignore him and just write my name, but at five years old that can be a difficult thing to do. So it came to be that I signed my name J – e –r – p. Jerp. That’s how I signed my name on my grandfather’s birthday card. In ink. I was immediately in tears, inexpressibly frustrated. My brother thought it was hilarious. I’m sure my mom had to struggle not to laugh. I was still crying when we got to my grandparents’ house and gave my grandfather his card.”

To this day, when Henkel’s brother wants to give him a hard time about something, he calls him Jerp, and Henkel has friends whose entry for him in their cell phone is Jerp.

His advice: “I’m sure there’s a lesson to be learned from this story, but I’m not at all sure what that lesson is. Maybe it’s, ‘take your time, and don’t let people make you go faster than you’re comfortable with.’ Maybe it’s, ‘if something seems like the worst thing in the world, give it time: it may actually just be really funny.’ Or maybe it could be that ‘mistakes can be beautiful.’ After all, I’ve got to imagine that if there’s just one birthday card my grandfather received in his life that he remembered, it may well be the one where his tow-headed grandson misspelled his own name and was mortified about it.”

“Then again, it might just be, ‘make sure you give your children names that are easy to spell.’”

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