Lawyer Josh Davis '87 Reflects on Time at Swarthmore Prior to 25th Reunion

96.9 Boston Talks: Josh Davis Blog

Josh Davis ’87, an attorney who specializes in labor and employment law in Boston, is a legal analyst for the issues discussed on the Doug Meehan Show on 96.9 Boston Talks.  He is often quoted in the Boston Business Journal and other publications, and has been named one of the "Best Lawyers in America."  A response to this blog entry from his freshman roommate, Patrick McNamara ’87, appears below.

May 28, 2012

In my own small corner of the world, this is a big week. My 18-year old stepdaughter will graduate from high school on Friday. My 17-year old son will finish his junior year the same day.  And on Saturday, Jennifer and I will head to Swarthmore College for my 25th reunion.  It will be a week full of speeches about endings and beginnings.  At graduation after graduation, reunion after reunion, speaker after speaker will try, one way or another, to offer meaningful advice about life's journey.  No one asked me to make such a speech.  If they had, I would have told this story.

29 years ago, in the fall of 1983, I arrived at Swarthmore College. ...   Its campus is an arboretum.  The physical beauty of the campus is matched only by the intellectual rigor of the classes.  I remember across all that time how nervous I was.  And I remember too the intense worry that I would not find friends.  On arrival, my new roommate, watched me unpack my stuff and said quietly, "I requested a neat roommate."  And I remember replying, trying to suppress a smile, "so did I."  Patrick McNamara and I became fast friends (though the sides of our room were kept to different standards).  ...

After a few days of orientation activities, classes started.  I remember clearly being astonished at how much reading there was to do.  ...

One class in particular stood out to me.  In my sophomore year, I took a course called Proust, Joyce and Faulkner taught by a man named Philip Weinstein.  It would be unfair not to tell you that he was a legend at my college.  For the first class, he assigned the first chapter of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.  In spite of my excellent Massachusetts public education, I had not read Faulkner.  For others in that boat, I need to say that it is tough sledding.  The sentences go on.  There are italics.  It is never clear what year it is.  Said differently, reading Faulkner can be dizzying; it is as if you do not know where you are.  After we had all sat down in class, Professor Weinstein came in.  He is (still) tall and thin, with a very quiet but authoritative speaking voice.  He also manages to speak in sentences that are stunningly beautiful -- you want to write them down.  As he talked about the book, it seemed to me he had read something I had not.  To him it made sense, and understanding the story was critical to unlocking its meaning.  I took notes furiously.  I went back to the library.  I reread the chapter.  I looked at the notes.  And, by the end of the night, I felt as though I had read the book Professor Weinstein was talking about.

And that's really what I learned at Swarthmore.  Listen.  Go back.  Look at the notes.  Talk about it.  Eventually, you can find the thread that makes it make sense for you.  Being willing to risk not knowing along the way to finding out can be thrilling.... These are the ingredients of a great journey.... Education, whether it is high school or beyond, is a great gift, and completing one of those journeys is worth celebrating.  Think about it. 

Response from freshman roommate Patrick McNamara ’87:

Because my friend and freshman roommate Josh referred to me in this blog, I feel compelled to respond here. While we both fell short of the hopes we had for "neat" roommates, there were many points on which we far exceeded the expectations we had for friends.

Josh was (and is) a talented speaker and quick witted. You are lucky to have him on 96.9 Boston Talks. He is a good man, partly because he took Prof. Weinstein's challenge seriously to engage with Faulkner and other great authors. And I too remember many Swarthmore courses - and many more conversations outside of class - that took us deeper into texts, questions and connections.

Here is my wish for Josh's kids, for my own kids and for all of us who were ever kids: May going through transitions in life bring you closer to your True Self. As David Brooks recently argued, we would benefit from reading fewer spreadsheets and more Dostoyevsky and The Book of Job!