Talk of the Quad: Tomorrow's farewell parties
I was not—I do not think—among Peter Coviello’s favorite students. He was nonetheless among my favorite teachers.
Pete, or “Coves,” as his self-appointed acolytes called him to make him ours, had many wonderful pupils in whom he delighted. I’m thinking of the unexpected poets of the lacrosse team and the unforeseen theorists at the end of the seminar table who inspired him to clap his hands in joyful assent.
As Professor Coviello departs, I anticipate an outpouring of fond remembrances to rival those of President Mills. So it’s with a familiar proprietary feeling that I once again raise my hand to say something to Professor Coviello and jealously imagine the sea of other—maybe more beloved—students upon whom he might call.
Yet as we all lose Pete, I think that jealousy grants me—grants us—some purchase of this loss. I first took a class with Professor Coviello my sophomore year. It was a seminar on Freud that was among the courses he offered when he returned to Bowdoin in 2010. (He began teaching at the college in 1998).
I admit to some skepticism: What, I chided myself, could this effortless intellectual care for my thoughts?
Yet, when Professor Coviello wasn’t teaching electrically, or gesticulating eloquently, or expertly deploying jargon and obscenity, he was listening intently. Perhaps this is why I never felt as special to him as I, or maybe all of his students, secretly hoped to: Pete is an egalitarian. We were all peers in the classroom, if only for a tantalizing moment.
This democracy is not without pedagogy. Here, as always with Professor Coviello, I’m aware of the injustice I do in paraphrasing him.
The languages we, in academic communities, create and deconstruct together has a great power to sustain and unite us.
Put another way: the vocabulary with which we parse our thoughts and carefully complicate the seemingly simple can be turned to the work of our lives. This talk does not, as Pete might say, do nothing.
I would not be writing now (in any of the ways I am) if it weren’t for Pete.
Once, in a second course with him, I managed to suggest a word that he briefly took to using. To have permeated his vocabulary one one-thousandth as much as he had entered into mine was a thrill I won’t soon forget.
Yet I drifted quickly from Pete’s powerful orbit even while at Bowdoin. My senior year, he offered a course called The Queer Child and unfortunately, I didn’t take it and don’t know much about the course information.
It did cause a stir on campus with its title, and managed to attract to it a number of my English major friends. Queer children, they called themselves. Their eagerness reminded me when I too, was in the throes of his charms.
Even then I felt acutely out of his circle. For this of course I don’t blame him, but to be distant from people who shine as brilliantly as he does is a kind of winter.
But perhaps that’s too sentimental or not poetic enough.
Besides, I would like to think that Professor Coviello teaches a way of thinking and talking that will survive his tenure at Bowdoin, as it survives in me and in all his friends and students.
So farewell, Pete! You will be, and have been, missed.
Caleb Pershan is a member of the Class of 2012.