On Thursday, May 15, 1997, the "class that never ends" met officially for the last time for a potluck dinner. We marked this bittersweet occasion with a variety of rituals and exchanges. These included a letter from the captain to his crew.
Dear Moby Crew,
Sixteen months ago we began our educational voyage. I knew as we came together in discussing MOBY-DICK that this was a unique group of students, but I of course could not imagine at the time even a glimmer of what you would all achieve. From your presentations in Evanston, to your Web site, to your impromptu NKU exhibition, and then on this year to the Utah adventure and the Rockford gam, ours was indeed a remarkable exploration of uncharted waters. Just the fact that we all made it back on board for a second Spring Semester cruise is impressive in itself (as is Brian's having stayed with us in spite of having shipped out to NYU). Usually there is someone like Herman on board who jumps ship or finds something better to do.
For me as a teacher nothing gets better than what we all did together. During the first half of our two-part voyage we were like Melville in his 1851 letter to Hawthorne: scarcely a week went by in which we were not "unfolding within ourselves." Now, completing the second half, we are like Melville in the next sentence of the same letter: we have "come to the inmost leaf of the bulb," after which "the flower must fall to the mould." Our communal flowering has been outrageous and courageous, and much will grow from its mould (as, in a sense, your 1996 and 1997 exhibitions grew from the residue of Fred North's having presented a painting rather than a research paper at the end of my 1994 Spring Semester course). I know that for me the personal and professional dividends of what our crew has done will be long-lasting and life-affirming (the richest kind of "lay" a lee-shore teacher can ever receive), and I hope they will be, too, for each of you (to whom there is a personal note on the verso of this page).
This year we had the challenge of extending by design what had erupted spontaneously the year before. I am delighted by what the Utah crew accomplished in Provo--and by what the entire Moby crew did in preparing for Rockford. For me, to be joined by seven students in the kind of presentation we made to the National Association for Humanities Education, and then to be with all twelve of you as you shared your works with each other (as well as with Elizabeth Schultz, Robert Del Tredici, Merton Sealts, and our Rockford hosts) at the Rockford gam--all of this brought my teaching, research, and interpersonal experience together in an absolutely unforgettable way. I am grateful to each of you for being at Rockford personally, as well as on the walls or in the cases. What you created this year, as well as last, as well as the spirit in which you created it and met every challenge, will always be a highlight in my life as a teacher and as a student of MOBY-DICK.
The most wonderful thing about this crew, I believe, in addition to the individuality of its members, is the cohesion of the group. Each of us was needed to do what we did. Each of us carried our weight and more. We worked hard but we had a good time. We know the unconscious fraternity of the squeeze of the hand. We know where to find the ambergris in the body of the blasted whale. We have stayed with each other and for each other and now we are all landing safely at the end of our extended adventure together. No captain could be prouder of his crew. "The course that never ends" has officially ended, but its spirit will live on in us all. So will the book that inspired it and all that we have created.
Thanks for everything. Stay in touch. Remember the words that Melville taped to the desk on which he wrote "Billy Budd" in his old age: "Keep true to the dreams of thy youth."