I'm back at DePauw University for two delicious days, attending the Young Philosophers Symposium hosted by the Prindle Institute for Ethics. I'm done now with my frequent gigs as a visiting professor here (six semesters over the course of the last five years), or at least I think I am, but I'm not done with loving DePauw, or the little town of Greencastle, or the farmland of western Indiana. It's so wonderful to be back.
But I didn't want to come back as a ghost. In Maud Hart Lovelace's wonderful novel Emily of Deep Valley, orphaned Emily has graduated from high school but isn't able to go away to college because of obligations to her aging, widowed grandfather. Lonely, as her friends depart to new adventures, she finds herself haunting the halls of Deep Valley High School. When she sees a flash of pity in a favorite teacher's eyes, she finally realizes: "She wasn't still a high school girl. And she couldn't keep on pretending to be one forever. She didn't belong here. She was a ghost."
I'm grateful that I didn't have to come back to DePauw as a ghost. Andy Cullison, the extraordinarily energetic and effervescent director of the Prindle Institute, invited me to serve as one of three outside blind reviewers for the Young Philosophers Symposium. We were charged with reading the forty or so submissions - full-length papers in a wide range of subfields of philosophy - and ranking each one on a 10-point scale. The four Young Philosopher competition winners - "young" meaning "early career scholars within six years of receiving the Ph.D." - were then invited to campus to present their work in a series of eight talks, each one giving both an introductory-level talk and a research-focused talk, over the course of a very full two days.
And - this is the best part - the three outside reviewers were invited, too. So here I am, not as a ghost but as a guest, staying right on campus in the lovely Inn at DePauw and attending stimulating talks with titles like: "The Power No One Should Even Have," "How Much Should You Believe in Your Friends?", "Achievement - What Is It and Why Does It Matter?" and "Who Owes What to War Refugees?" I've also had time for long, leisurely chats with many dear friends, a meeting of the Honor Scholar thesis committee of a beloved former student (I get to serve on her committee despite no longer being a current member of the DePauw faculty), early morning walks on the quiet streets of Greencastle, and hugs from multiple chance encounters with former colleagues.
I still belong! I have a contribution to make, a role to play, and all the intellectual and personal fun that comes from continuing to be a small but real part in a small but real way of this community I love.