Teaching Lessons

An Assisted Journey of Self Discovery

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By Emily Esfahani Smith

October 24, 2016


 

 

When I was a freshman at Dartmouth College, I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a doctor. So I dutifully signed up for pre-med classes, volunteered in a neuroscience lab, and studied hard for my exams. But then something unexpected happened: I met a professor named Jeffrey Hart and he helped me discover where my path really lay.

Hart had been an English professor at Dartmouth but was retired by the time I met him. He still lived in the area and was committed to mentoring students, so he reached out to me one day after reading an article I had written for The Dartmouth Review.

The lunch we had turned into the first of many. We always met at the same restaurant—a cozy Irish pub called Murphy’s. There was no small talk at our lunches, but serious conversations about T. S. Eliot and Edmund Burke, the ethics of stem-cell research or the war in Iraq. An accomplished literary critic, Hart had also dabbled in politics, and he told me stories from his time working for Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and William F. Buckley Jr. When he wasn’t talking politics or literature, he loved cracking jokes. He knew how to have fun, but he also took his job as an educator seriously. At the end of every lunch, he gave me a folder full of readings—and sometimes entire books—to complete in time for our next meeting.

I received quite an education at those meetings. But Hart also gave me another gift. Sensing my particular enthusiasms, he steered our discussions—and my readings—toward the humanities. And because he thought I had some ability as a writer, he told me that I should pursue writing as a career path if I wanted to—which was huge. I had secretly toyed with the idea of being a writer but knew it was a risky path. But Hart’s support gave me the courage I needed. I eventually decided to drop pre-med and pursue a career as a journalist. Hart had helped me find my true vocation.


Emily Esfahani Smith is the author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, to be published in January. She is also a columnist for The New Criterion, as well as an editor at the Hoover Institution, where she manages the Ben Franklin Circles project, an initiative to build purpose and community throughout the nation.


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