National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Spring 2008


Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 9:1, Spring/Summer 2008. Copyright © 2008 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


“Ah, hear that old piano, from down the avenue.” Every Saturday at 6:00pm, at home in Alfred or on the coast of Maine or in Chapel Hill, I can count on hearing those words, “coming to you live from the Fitzgerald Theatre.” It’s time to settle in for another edition of A Prairie Home Companion. The show’s familiarity is comforting. I know just what to expect: The Adventures of Guy Noir (Private Eye), Dusty and Lefty, The Guys’ All- Star Shoe Band, faux ads for Powdermilk Biscuits and The Duct Tape Council, lots of music and singing, and, finally, The News From Lake Wobegon. In a way that would warm Aristotle’s heart, the show has a beginning, middle, and end. For many years it concluded with credits for its writers and producers: Oliver Closoff, Hedda Lettuce, Marian Haste, Mahatma Koat, Ivana Huginkis, Natalie Dressed, Warren Peace, and Anna Conda, among others. In short, Garrison Keillor has created a little world, and much of its pleasure comes from anticipating a favorite part. For me that means hearing from the Ketchup Advisory Council.

Some years ago I realized I was doing something like that with the Alfred University Honors Program, at first unconsciously, but then on purpose. Like A Prairie Home Companion, our program has its predictable rhythm, events students look forward to. The year begins with “Death by Chocolate” where freshmen meet the upperclassmen and get a head start on gaining their freshman fifteen. There’s a make-your-own-cookie party at Christmas, then dinner for seniors at the president’s house, and finally a year-end banquet, featuring student and faculty entertainment and another cascade of chocolate desserts. Like A Prairie Home Companion’s world, which trades heavily on parody of radio culture with its mock ads and retro sound effects, Alfred’s “honors culture” works in part by gently making fun of some of the more pretentious aspects of university life.