Hearing Philosophy in Pittsburgh


I’m going to be honest: I don’t think I’ve ever felt dumber than when taking Philosophy at Williams.  The only other moment in the running that immediately comes to mind is when I got my first graded assignment returned in my freshman fall at Williams and the grade on it was a big fat D+.  That’s right.  Slightly better than “Doofus.”  That was my Art History 101 sculpture paper.  Did I mention that I was an Art History Major?

But I digress.  Philosophy was certainly the class I struggled with the most my freshman year, as I made two brief, yet seemingly protracted forays into Plato’s discipline.  As I say, I’ve seldom felt more dumb, and while that was probably a good and constructive thing for me in my freshman year, it wasn’t a sensation I particularly enjoyed.  Thus, my formal philosophical inquiries fell by the wayside in favor of other subjects.

Anyway, this is all to say that had I taken a class with Joe Cruz, perhaps my path would have been different.  Joe joined us in Pittsburgh, now two evenings ago.  Class of ’91 and a Williams professor for the past 9 years, Joe flew into Pittsburgh to meet up with us and the ever messier Shadowfax (our van.  Alas, the name doesn’t seem to have stuck) equipped with a small bag of clothes, a laptop, and a large suitcase with a bicycle in it.  We tossed everything in the back (ahem, gingerly placed the bicycle…) and headed off to PNC park for our event.

Let me pause for a moment to say that PNC is a gorgeous baseball stadium.  The only major league stadium I’ve ever been to is the old, now defunct, Yankee Stadium.  And compared to that hulking, concrete behemoth, PNC is like the Taj Mahal, or the Kimbell Art Museum; It’s gorgeous.  I have no idea what the experience of watching a game there is like, but the stadium is beautiful.  We were fortunate enough to have the event at the ballpark thanks to the generosity of Bob Nutting ’84 and his wife Leslie Nutting ’85.  They arranged for us to use the park for the Joe’s talk and were incredibly generous and gracious hosts.  Thanks Bob and Leslie!

Bob Nutting '84 (sorry about the picture Bob! The photos I took didn't really come out well)
Bob Nutting '84 (sorry about the picture Bob! The photos I took didn't really come out well)

Upon arriving fashionably on time at the park for the start of the reception, we changed and were  promptly followed by about 30 slightly more fashionable Williams alums, parents, and guests.   The group was fantastic, and the classes in attendance ranged from 1968 all the way down to 2013.   Ryan Loughran, Williams class of 2013, and his parents were representing the youngest Williams class of all.

Kim Daboo '88, me, and Ryan Loughran '13

Ryan is the first of many incoming students who we’ll meet on the Expedition, and he represented his class well.  He plays football, was thrilled to be at the reception and meet everyone, and he even asked Professor Cruz the last question of the evening.  It’s hard to say whose emotions were running higher that night: Ryan’s excitement because he gets to attend Williams in a few short months, his parents’, Mary Kay and Joe, excitement for him, or the rest of us, who were aflame with jealousy because… well… Ryan gets to attend Williams in a few short months.

One of the reasons we’re all jealous is because of professors like Joe.   Joe Cruz is a dynamic and engaging speaker, and he has this wonderful habit of showing his appreciation when his audience ask a perceptive question or make a valid point.  Plus, he actually answers the question!  His excitement about his work is obvious and infectious, and it’s what makes his research so readily accessible.  (along with gesticulation!)

Joe Cruz '91 pantomiming his encounter with a Bengal tiger? No, probably just elucidating "Cogito, Ergo Sum."
Joe Cruz '91 pantomiming his encounter with a Bengal tiger during his travels in North India? No, probably just discussing Descartes and "Cogito, Ergo Sum."

Joe’s work is amazing, also, in it’s “Liberal Arts-ness” (if I can be forgiven the term); he discusses Literature, Philosophy, Psychology, History, and beyond in his presentation of his own journey toward understanding how the mind and body work.  If only I had had my first class with him five years ago, instead of two nights ago.

After Joe’s presentation everyone got up to leave, and an hour later the staff of PNC park asked us nicely if we would go so that they could close up shop for the night.  On our way out the door I chatted with Steve “Beetle” Bailey ’91 (who, we discovered, went to my high school ‘s greatest rival back in NJ) and Bill Kleeman ’77 about Pittsburgh and its economy.

Those of us who lingered and then loitered after the event was over
Those of us who lingered and then loitered outside the ballpark after the event was over

A few impressions of Pittsburgh: A number of us had never been to the  Steel City before, and so the well-represented young alumni crew at the event – Pittsburgh native Andrea Scioscia ’10, Chris Millen ’08 who attends law school at Pitt., and Cat Vielma ’10 who was taking summer classes in public policy – volunteered to show us a bit of the city that evening.  I thought Pittsburgh was a great city.  The skyline was distinctive, we saw active night-life, and the topography is such that there are some really fantastic views out over the Monongahela, the Allegheny, and the center of the city.  The hills also ensure that, due to the difficulty of building on the steep hillside, there is a lot of greenery gently cupping the urban city heart.  Also, we discovered that Pittsburgh has the second most number of bridges of any city in the world.  (the first, of course, is Venice)  (General question: does anyone know why yellow is Pittsburgh’s color?  I’m curious, and didn’t ask enough people to find the answer when I was there)  Pittsburgh was energetic, lively and welcoming, and I found it proud; I can understand why.

Until next time.