18 Things

Larry Grossberg (who was my Ph.D. adviser) retired this year. There was a lovely gathering in May of 40+ years worth of his friends, family, colleagues, and students (past and present) to celebrate Larry and wish him well in this next chapter of his life. As part of this event, I was asked to moderate a panel consisting of 8 of Larry’s former students and colleagues, with each of us having 3 minutes to say something about what we had learned from Larry. My own contribution wasn’t (I think) all that special. But enough people who were there have asked me to share it with them that I figured I might as well share it here too.

Trying to pick a single moment from the 35 years I’ve known Larry was too tough. So I’ve opted for breadth instead of depth. Here are 18 things I’ve learned from Larry over the years, with the side note that none of these are things that he ever actively sat down and tried to teach me. Most of them I learned from watching Larry’s example. A few from his counter-example. Though which ones fall into the last category, I will never say.

  1. Always drink good bourbon neat.
  2. Don’t ever drink bad bourbon at all.
  3. Four semesters worth of reading really can be fit into a one-semester seminar.
  4. Find an academic community that supports you. If you can’t find one, build it yourself. Then nurture it like your life depends on it. Because it does.
  5. Remember people’s birthdays and anniversaries.
  6. Be extra generous — with your time, with your energy, with your attention, with your curiosity — to people who have no power or authority over you.
  7. Always challenge your students, even when you know they’re right.
  8. Encourage your students to always challenge you, even when you think they’re wrong.
  9. The most valuable parts of any conference are the ones where people socialize.
  10. Never get so comfortable or predictable in your thinking that your projects can’t surprise you.
  11. Don’t hide your political commitments or intellectual passions under a bushel. Write and speak in ways that show that you give a shit.
  12. Curse like a fucking adult.
  13. Cultural studies will not simply take care of itself. If it’s going to thrive — or even survive — someone has to do the work to make that happen. Be that someone.
  14. Always let someone who is not smoking weed drive the university van.
  15. Always let someone who is smoking weed deliver the introductory lecture on Deleuze.
  16. As a mentor, your job is to help your students be the best possible versions of themselves, rather than a watered-down version of you.
  17. Treat them with respect, and your students will help you become a better version of yourself.
  18. Know when it’s time to stop talking and let someone else have the floor.


  1. Thanks for sharing, Gil. This is very good!

  2. Nice list, Gil. I like #4.

  3. Oh yes. And a huge YES to number 6.

  4. This looks correct. Generosity, as Aljoša says, is absolutely key. Bravo, Gil.

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