Connecticut College Magazine · Summer 2012

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Former Dean of the College Jewel Plummer Cobb with Beverly Clark Prince '72 in Cobb's lab at Connecticut College. Photo courtesy of the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives.

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Moments of truth

Moments of truth

Dirk Held left an indelible impression on his students


Dirk t. D. Held, the Elizabeth S. Kruidenier '48 Professor of Classics, died unexpectedly on March 21. Held, 72, taught at the College for 41 years, the last 32 as chair of the classics department. His passion for antiquity and his commitment to students won over more than a few undecided sophomores, who majored in classics just to take more classes with him.

Among the hundreds of students he taught and mentored was Eric Adler '95, who went on to earn a doctorate at Duke University and then returned to Connecticut College in 2007 as assistant professor of classics. “He was my chief vision of what a classics professor was, and I knew I wanted to be like him as an adult,” Adler recalls.

Held earned his bachelor's degree and Ph.D. from Brown University. His teaching and research focused on philosophy and the relationship between antiquity and the modern world. He also taught all levels of Latin and Greek, from beginning to advanced. He was particularly interested in how the values of the ancient world influence the values of today.

His impact on students, past and present, was profound.

“'Man is the measure of all things,'” wrote Ben Cheung '12 in The College Voice, quoting the Greek philosopher Protagoras. “We always dream of college as a place where the big change happens, where we encounter the moment in our lives in which we see a better future for ourselves. I am proud to say that meeting Dirk Held was that moment for me.”

Miles Ladin '90, a photographer who majored in art, wrote on the College's Facebook page that his two courses with Held, on Socrates and classical ethics, “instilled in me a lifelong love affair with intellectual pursuits.”

Two decades later, Travis Lynch '12 was similarly inspired. Taking Held's freshman seminar on Socrates, he discovered an interest in philosophy. Later, he read Plato in the original Greek with Held, and this year he wrote a philosophy honors thesis. He calls Held “perhaps the most influential professor I have ever had.”

Held exemplified the life of the mind, but alumni from every era also remember him as kind, generous and funny. He was accommodating and supportive of student interests.

Classics major Emily Morse '05, author of a forthcoming memoir, “Dear Teen Me,” says Held invited her to do a required Latin class as an independent study when the class time conflicted with her schedule as Voice editor-in-chief. For another class, he allowed her to indulge her love of music by writing a paper on Dionysus and '80s hair metal. “Professor Held gave me the passion and confidence that allows me to write the way I do,” she recalled in the Voice. “He made me brave, unapologetic …”

Classics and history major Julia Harnett Lenzi '10, now a high-school Latin teacher, credits her teaching style to her former adviser. “He was so intent on building a community in our classroom, encouraging us to share with one another, and that fostered a love for classics in us all,” she says. “As a Latin teacher, I take that to heart and try to incorporate that community in my classes.”

Held was active in building the campus community as well. He served on many College committees and as special assistant to the provost and associate dean of the faculty, and played a pivotal role in establishing the College's Arabic program within the classics department in 2009. Ethan Harfenist '12, a student of Arabic, remembers Held as a “friend and mentor” who frequently reached out to him and his classmates to ask how the department could help them.

In 2007, Held received the Helen Brooks Regan Faculty Leadership Award, a choice that surprised no one. “Dirk earned the Regan award for his attitude of willingness to serve in any capacity needed by his colleagues,” Dean of the Faculty Roger Brooks says. “We will miss his presence and wry humor, his historical memory and, most of all, his fearless intellect.”


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