Conning Harvard

  1. I have never, in thirty years of teaching, at Yale, Oxford, Johns Hopkins, and Harvard, encountered a student with Adam Wheeler's scope of selfless intellectual ambition, coupled with the gifts and stamina to fulfill them. Nor have I known a student who has already demonstrated such a dazzling combination of acknowledged achievement and of near-horizonless potential. This would be high recommendation already, but I need to add that the particular vectors and the attributes of Wheeler's work will certainly influence his profession in a number of disciplines, and the future of the academy and culture at large. These seem almost absurdly high claims, but I shall try to sketch out various lines of substantiation.
    "What staggered me was his utter modesty, his patience with other students, his scrupulous avoidance of any opportunity to eclipse his fellows. His contributions to discussion tended to be philosophical and analytical, but were always to the point, and he opened up large perspectives to the seminar as a whole. I thought at the time that he had unlimited potential."
  2. He is an all-rounder, too, having been involved in community initiatives, and having a very close and athletic relation to the natural world. He is a competitive swimmer and an active surfer - not in some trite "California" mode, but as it involves a deep love and understanding of the sea (as an ex-surfer I have learned the distinction, and I can see how Wheeler's recreational and creative lives are seriously integrated).
    "Having been a Rhodes Scholar myself, I can assure you that I was nowhere nearly as qualified as Wheeler, nor did I have anything approximating his vision, his focus, and his carefully established intellectual and cultural purpose. He would be a splendid ambassador for his county."
  3. Although I have only known Adam Wheeler for the past six weeks as a student on my Early Romanticism course in Breadloaf at Oxford, I am convinced that he is going to be a famous literary scholar with a distinguished career ahead of him. It is not my style to write euphoric references, so I will register my sense that Adam is a really exceptional individual who will bring distinction to any graduate programme that takes time. The Breadloaf of English is a programme designed mainly for high school teachers of English working towards a master's degree over the course of several summers. In recent years I have also had one or two graduate students attending the course as a way of intensively enhancing their knowledge of specific areas. Adam is the first undergraduate I have taught on the programme, but I understand that he is already taking graduate courses in English and philosophy at Harvard. Adam engaged with literary texts at a level far above that of his fellow students on this course. His reading in philosophy and political theory (Seneca, Freud, Adam Smith, and Walter Benjamin were but a few of the points of reference) is really remarkable for someone of his age. Adam is bent on asking large questions about texts - how does Wordsworth balance sympathy and 'apatheia' in his economy of feeling? This morning I marked his final thirty page paper on Wordsworth's The Excursion and its use of georgic economy and though that parts of it could be published.
    At times Adam has been perceived as a daunting figure by some of his classmates (three new students on the Breadloaf programme) but he become less shy as the weeks went on. He gave a wonderfully illuminating presentation this week on the role of the monstrous and grotesque in Frankenstein, and in his communication of great thoughts to an audience I saw at once the markings of the charismatic lecturer. I do not know Adam very well, not having known him for very long, but I volunteered to write on his behalf before he had a chance to ask me (he might not have done so) as I am convinced that he should be considered for a graduate scholarship. He would flourish in a research environment.
  4. I write this letter in complete and unwavering support of Adam Wheeler, who is quite simply the most intellectually talented literary scholar I have encountered in my six years teaching at Harvard and teaching in graduate school at Yale. Even among the best and brightest at Harvard, Adam's unparalleled talent and productivity … set him apart from most of Harvard's graduate students in English. He is a wildly ambitious and dedicated student, as even the most cursory look at his astonishing CV will suggest.
Card Set
Conning Harvard
Julie Zauzmer