On Friday afternoon, I served as chair and respondent for a panel on “The Evolution of the Classical Imagination” at the New York College English Association conference on “Evolution and Revolution” at SUNY New Paltz. Each of the presenters offered a perspective on an Augustan poet — Horace, Ovid, Virgil — and how that poet might help us understand the complexities of contemporary military service.
The panelists were undergraduates presenting at a graduate conference, and they were absolutely amazing: poised, confident, insightful, professional. As several auditors noted, had the presenters not been in Cadet grey, everyone would have assumed they were graduate students.
After the Friday presentations, we went to the keynote presentation by Ed Sanders, founder of The Fugs and biographer of Allen Ginsberg, wherein there was much hectoring of anyone who didn’t subscribe to the ideological certainties of the academic left, and wherein many of the clichés and platitudes of the academic left were cheered and applauded. It made me cringe a little: I know that I’m far more liberal than most of the Cadets in my classes, but in the keynote, Sanders came across almost as a comedic caricature of smug, self-indulgent would-be left radicalism, and the rest of the audience seemed all too happy to agree that every problem in the world — the environment, genocide, consumerism, war, intolerance, corruption, poverty — would be solved if more people just agreed with the left-good, Bush-bad bromides Sanders offered.
It didn’t faze the Cadets, and in fact, they went down after the keynote and waited in line to talk to him and shake his hand. That was a side of Cadet life I hadn’t yet seen, but it was in full evidence throughout the conference: these students are absolutely remarkable in their social facility, and with their forthrightness, curiosity, and directness, they charmed everyone they met.