Inspired in the Classroom
Like many students, Barack Obama arrived on campus without a clear idea of what his future might be. It was in the late Roger Boesche’s classroom that he found his inspiration. “Your classroom is where my interest in politics began,” he wrote to his old mentor in 2016 when the Arthur G. Coons Professor in the History of Ideas announced his retirement.
Boesche’s political theory classes and his knack for making the complex comprehensible made a deep impression. “You helped instill passion for ideas, not only in me, but in the generations of students who found in your courses inspiration that would guide them forward,” Obama wrote. “Posing questions that have challenged societies through the ages, your teaching and research remind us of the importance of constant inquiry and debate, lessons that are the core of our democracy, and that I’ve drawn on throughout my life, particularly in this Office.”
During Boesche’s 2009 visit to the Oval Office, Obama introduced his old professor to his staff by saying, “Professor Boesche taught me everything I know about politics,” adding with a laugh, “But he gave me a 'B' on a paper!” Boesche later explained his side of the story: “He said, ‘Why did I get this grade?’ and I said, ‘Well, frankly, I think you’re really brilliant, but you don’t work hard enough.’”