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It would be hard to overstate how deeply Stan Bates intimidated me. He was my professor in several courses and my advisor, for my major as an Independent Scholar and for my senior year thesis, and I always had a funny reaction to his remarkable talents. I was awed by the dimensions of his knowledge and the depth of his insights, whether the subject was linguistics or political philosophy or Updike's novels or movies. I recall sitting in his office one afternoon when it dawned on me that there was not a single significant subject that he had not mastered.
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But those who knew Stan well knew that he was one of the most unassuming, unpretentious people on the Middlebury faculty. He conveyed no sense of self-importance as he chatted about Wittgenstein, or Stanley Cavell's theories on words and meaning, or essays on golf, or his observations as a father, a subject he was good at. I wanted to be like him, which is, after all, one of the greatest attributes of a great mentor. It was clear that I could never be as smart as Stan. That was a given. But I could aspire to being rigorous in my efforts to think clearly and piercingly. I could aspire to being a good guy, a nice guy. That's how Stan influenced me. He set the bar high, without trying. But perhaps his greatest influence was on my writing. I built my career as a writer, and his comments constantly come back to me, even now. He never wrote more than a few comments in the margins of my paper, some approving, most of them not. He liked clarity. He hated an inflated sense of importance. He loved insights camouflaged as casual observations. I took note. I'll always remember one note in particular, in the margins of a paper I had thought one of my best. There was my long passage analyzing something or other, and he just wrote, "Is that English?" To say the least, it was deflating, but, given that this was Stan Bates, it was not defeating. I took it as an admonition, and my life and career were richer for it. Stan Bates was one of the Middlebury greats, in his soft-spoken way, and I'm terribly grateful I had the opportunity to study under his broad wings.
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by Jim Sterngold '76 (not verified)