For those of you unacquainted with Professor Paul Franco, as I was before our meeting, you may recognize him as the man strolling across campus with his black lab as you bike frantically to morning class. Franco is a political philosophy professor in the government department and has taught at Bowdoin for 25 years, which may have something to do with his reputation as a compelling and charismatic professor. 

As I loitered by the Smith Union Café waiting to meet Franco for a teatime chat, I was curious. Would our conversation remain confined to the realm of academia and Bowdoin life, or would we transcend the normal student-professor banter? I felt a sort of juvenile glee at the prospect of putting a professor in the hot seat. There were all kinds of questions I wanted to ask him—about his journey to Bowdoin, life experiences, and Netflix queue (spoiler: he likes “House of Cards”).

I greeted Franco in line to purchase hot beverages, and was delighted when he asked for a reusable mug for his coffee (black). I plopped a teabag into my own cup, and we sat down for what I sensed would be an enlightening discussion. We already had dishware in common.

Franco grew up in Colorado and attended Colorado College. From there, he went on to attend graduate school at the University of Chicago and came straight to Bowdoin as a freshly-minted academic. “This was in 1990, and I have been here ever since,” said Franco. 

As we talked about his youth, I wanted to work out how he chose the life of a professor. “It was always a straight path for me,” said Franco. “My father was a doctor, but I never considered that.”

In terms of odd jobs here and there however, Franco has held some eclectic temporary positions over the years. He worked as a theater usher and gas station attendant. He was also a lawn mower at a graveyard. “The key was not to chip the gravestones as you were going,” he explained.

As a college student, Franco enjoyed the intimate atmosphere of the liberal arts, just as we do at Bowdoin. One of his favorite memories involved stargazing with classmates in the Colorado Rockies. 

“I was not a science major, but I took an astronomy course for non-science people. We went up into the mountains to do our observations and I remember being high above the city away from the lights, and seeing the sky with such absolute clarity.”

This appreciation for new experiences, both in academics and environment, resonated with me, and I began to suspect that some aspects of the lives of college students have gone unaltered.

“In general, though, the memory of being in a small, beautiful place with close friends and incredible teachers made a great impact when I was deciding where I would teach,” explained Franco. “It was a very formative experience.”

Franco and I went on to discuss ‘Mad Men binges,’ literature and his experience as a Dead Head. Talking about these things opened our conversation to the workday aspects of campus life, not excluding collegiate dating practices. Franco tolerated my curiosity, and explained that his college experiences seemed to reflect those of Bowdoin students today.

“Growing up in the 70s, there was an erosion of sorts, which I think we’re still experiencing. It was an organic time, but I think [dating] may have lacked some specialness, a setting aside of time away from the mundane. I think it would be great if we got back to the old-fashioned flowers–and–ice–cream thing.”

The conversation soon moved on to more important things. Despite the great leaps—and regressions—the world has made since Franco was in college, one thing seems true: college students are pretty much all in the same boat. What’s more, the things we will remember most about our time here may not be individual events, but rather the collective people, places, and experiences that bind us. And that, according to Franco, is perfectly okay.

“Enjoy your time here and do some experimenting,” he advised. “Find something you love to do and don’t worry too much about getting on a career track. Use these four years as a kind of interval before pressures bear down.”

This wisdom was well received by me, a track-less English major, but I think it is equally sound advice for those with set career paths. The liberal arts have much to offer, so we might as well get the most out of Bowdoin in our four years.

When we had finished our drinks and began squeaking our Union chairs back to part ways, I asked Franco one last question.

“What do you wish Bowdoin students knew about you?”

He paused, and I wondered what further wisdom he would impart to eager NESCACers. 

“I am a very fast runner,” said Franco, nodding slowly. “That’s what I’d like them to know.”

Elena Britos is a member of the class of 2015