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John Sexton

Education & Law

On Saturdays he had the habit of coming in, and he would always make soup for us from leftovers from the night before, and the four of us would get together, and he would tell stories. And he'd already discussed the three cases of my co-clerks for First Monday -- there were four cases. No discussion on Michael M. And as we're getting up after the stories, he said nothing. And I said, "Chief, could we discuss Michael M.?" And he looks at me, he says, "You mean that case you got so wrong?" And I said, "Yes." And he said, "Sure." He said, "Come on into the chambers" -- into his inner office. He said, "You'll just get me ready for Brennan." And I went in, and he took this piece of my work -- you know, eight-and-a-half by 11, about a 20-page memo. There's a big zero in felt-tip pen on the first page. And as I paged through it, different -- in the margin -- there's these balloon question marks, some big, some small. He says, "You see those question marks?" He says, "Whenever I disagree with something, I put a question mark." There must have been 30 question marks in this memo. He said, "The larger the question mark, the more I disagree." And he turns back to the zero, and he points at it, and he says, "That's the period at the bottom of the question mark." I said, "Oh my God." So I said, "Sir, could we discuss this so that I get instruction, at least." And so, he says, "Oh, of course." He said, "Come on. Come on." And we started discussing it. And I have to tell you, for years -- now the guards have changed -- but for years the guards remembered the shouting match, because they could hear it through the double doors. And I had gone into a zone. I didn't realize what I was doing. It's the Chief Justice of the United States. He's across -- he's closer than we are. And we're shouting, and he's beet red, and I'm shouting back as if I'm in an argument with my brother-in-law or something.
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John Sexton

Education & Law

John Sexton: I was taught that teaching is the noblest vocation. And I've now been in the classroom -- I started teaching when I was 17, so this is my 45th year of teaching. I've never had a sabbatical, never wanted a sabbatical. I never had a semester where I didn't teach at least one course. The rewards of teaching are remarkable. And they're almost ineffable. I mean, some of the most important of the rewards of teaching are ineffable. To be here today, for example, and to be surrounded, after the panel on which I and Larry Summers and the others participated, and to catch, out of the corner of my eye, a woman who was my student in 1987, and to remember specifically the conversation where she decided to come to NYU -- to get the hug from her, to feel that I was part of what created the being that she is, with the extraordinary work that she's doing -- to be just a small part of that; to have her just say, "Thank you." This is an amazing thing to a teacher. But it's something that happens, if you've been teaching as long as I have, and have had as many thousands of students as I've had, it happens with some regularity. And it just -- it's something that keeps you young, it's something that reminds you that what you're doing -- if you test yourself on the proposition, "Am I living a useful life?" -- it's useful. And it just keeps you happy all the time.
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John Sexton

Education & Law

It's also important because it keeps you humble. I've never made it out of the first class of a semester without doing less well than I would have liked to have done for my students. I've never had a perfect semester. I've had some classes that I wouldn't try to do over again, but of course that's a different -- I've had some semesters I wouldn't try to do over again. That's a different test. That says, did I do -- you know, in the upper register of my capacities. But it's wonderful always to be reminded how one could do better. And, of course, I feel that deeply now because I'm not able to do as much with my students as I am because of the constraints that are on me all the time. But there's this wonderful kind of uplifting, energizing part that comes with teaching, and to be excited about ideas yourself, to see the excitement develop in others. And then there's this humbling part. But it's a beautiful kind of humbling. It's not a painful humbling.
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Neil Sheehan

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist

The athletic program was wonderful, because I was a poor athlete, but they had the varsity, they had the junior varsity, and then they had something called the C Team for people who couldn't make either varsity or junior varsity. We got to compete, because when we competed against Andover or Exeter or Deerfield, they also had C Teams. The head of the athletic department was a wonderful man named Axel Forslund. The gym is named after him there now, and he paid just as much attention to you if you were on the C Team as he did if you were on the varsity. He believed in boys. If your boy was motivated to play, it got his attention. We had a great cross-country coach who was also the French teacher. I ran cross-country in the fall, and I played ice hockey -- which is a great, rough, tough, fast, hard sport -- in the winter. I really enjoyed it. So it was a great fullness of life to go to a good private school. You got up in the morning, you had a really good breakfast, and you ran all day long, and when the "lights out" came Bang! You were off to sleep for another day. I really enjoyed it, and the intellectual challenge was great.
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Neil Sheehan

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist

They offered me a job to go over into Tokyo to put out a weekly. We put out a weekly newspaper for the division, and they offered me the job of going to Tokyo because the sergeant who was there was going home, and they offered me the job of going over there and taking it over, and I took it. I jumped at it. So here I was in Tokyo, working at Stars and Stripes, putting out a weekly newspaper. We worked in civilian clothes, except once a month we had to put a uniform on. We were living in officers quarters in what later became the Olympic Village. The Japanese had built it during the occupation. And I decided I really like this. I want to be a journalist. I want to be a reporter. This is what I want to do, and I hadn't known that when I joined the Army. I thought I'd go to work for the CIA and study Arabic or something, and go to work for the CIA or some oil company or something like that, but journalism is what really turned me on.
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Alan Shepard

First American in Space

Alan Shepard: The first plane ride was in a homemade glider my buddy and I built. Unfortunately we didn't get more than four feet off the ground, because it crashed. But the first legitimate airplane ride was when I was working at the local airport. And as a reward, partial reward for my activities, was given a ride as a passenger. And after two or three of those, the same pilot, he gave me a chance to play with the controls. And that's when it really all started.
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Alan Shepard

First American in Space

In the helicopter, flying back to the carrier, and seeing thousands of sailors on the deck of the carrier, being a Navy pilot, having made hundreds of carrier landings already, it was sort of like coming home. Except that there they were cheering for me. And that was probably the first moment of the flight when I felt the emotion of success -- perhaps pride -- in what I had done. And that was probably the first emotional moment in that whole flight.
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