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Lifelong Learning

Jerome Kohlberg '46

Though my Swarthmore odyssey stretches back more than 60 years, my experiences of those times are clearly etched in my memory. I arrived at Swarthmore in July 1943, in the midst of World War II. Only six months later, I would be in a U.S. Navy officers training program on the campus. That short six-month "civilian" period colors most of my early remembrances of our College.

My first visit to the Quaker Meetinghouse on campus left an indelible impression. I recall sitting quietly for a whole half hour on its wonderful spare wooden benches, until the silence was finally interrupted by a member of the congregation reading from the funny papers while drawing pointed conclusions. The Quaker principles attracted me: Friends stood up for what they believed, didn't follow the crowd, and had a straightforward approach to others, always leaving room for understanding and forgiveness. I learned the Quaker way of mediating differences and reaching consensus. These have served me well. It also said a lot to me that Swarthmore harbored on its campus two organizations with such disparate beliefs as the Quakers and the U.S. Navy.

I enjoyed the small-college sports program that offered an opportunity to participate in football, tennis, and track. There were no athletic scholarships, only eager "walk-ons," and, thanks to Coach Carl Delmuth, even a small, timorous fellow like me could make the varsity football team (third string). I roomed with Phil Evans (for whom the Evans Scholarships are named), who became my closest friend until his untimely early death. His love of music and his lust for life were infectious.

We lived in Pittinger, and I took frequent walks with Old Man Pittinger, who still stalked the campus and with whom I had many long talks. He was a wonderful source of knowledge about life and Swarthmore, and epitomized the peripheral rewards of a small college.

I struggled with physics but was enthralled by W.H. Auden, who taught English. Here we were, 10 or so freshmen, listening to one of the most distinguished poets and writers of the English-speaking world. Auden enhanced my love of literature, and, to this day, I pull books off our shelves and return to his writings and quotations. Then, as now, scholarship and teaching drove the college. The faculty, in a subtle-and sometimes not so subtle-way, taught us the rewards of serious scholarship and the pleasures to be derived from lifelong learning.

Swarthmore was an oasis of civility during this defining period of my life. It was a just and humane refuge in a world where the threat of military service hung over our heads. All these things were meaningful then; they still are today.

Rereading this, 60 years later, I am struck by the nostalgia I have for those days and reminded of how much Swarthmore has meant to me.

Jerome Kohlberg, a founder of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., is a partner in Kohlberg & Co., chairman of the board of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and chairman of the Kohlberg Foundation.