Alumni Board Scholar Profile: Q&A with 1984 scholar Noel Lenski

Alumni Board Scholar Profile: Q&A with 1984 scholar Noel Lenski

Members of the Boettcher Scholar Alumni Board are interviewing their fellow Boettcher Scholars to help the community get to know one another better. The following Q&A was compiled by Boettcher Scholar Angelique Diaz.


Scholar Year: 1984
Hometown: Littleton
College(s), Degree(s), and Graduation Year(s): Colorado College, B.A. in Classics 1989; Princeton, M.A. 1992, Ph.D. 1995

Tell us about your current work and how long you’ve been doing it. What is your favorite aspect of your current occupation?

I have been into classics and ancient history since I was an undergraduate at Colorado College. I went immediately to graduate school and then got my first teaching job at the University of Colorado Boulder in 1995. After 20 great years at CU, I joined the faculty of Yale in 2015. My profession is wonderful. I get to work with motivated and clever young people and to teach them that they are not so different from the very old people I study. Our technologies allow us to realize more of our ambitions, but we humans are fundamentally the same across time and cultures.

What role has being a Boettcher Scholar played into where you are and what you are doing now?

Being a Boettcher Scholar has been very important to my identity. Once I learned I had received this honor, I parked my ambitions to study out of state and am glad I did. Colorado is an outstanding state in which to study, and Colorado College offered me a first-rate education. Having lived in many places in America and abroad, I can say from experience that Coloradans are special people. Our environment, with its beauties and challenges, invites us to achieve amazing things and to grow and develop as whole, free people.

Tell us about your involvement in activities, organizations, or groups outside of work.

My first ambition is to be a good father and husband. I love the time I have with my family. I’m an avid cyclist (road, mountain, cyclocross), going back to my youth. I ski when I can, especially cross-country, and love all sports. I’m also a carpenter, everything from furniture to home renovation. In addition, there are many aspects of my profession not directly attached to my job that keep me busy – I edit the Journal of Late Antiquity and work on a number of local, national, and international organizations for the promotion of classics and the ancient world.

What’s the best advice you’ve received and what advice do you have for current graduates entering your career field?

Follow your dreams, and work hard. A career in the humanities is not easy to manage in today’s environment. Parents, friends, the whole world are pushing you to think “practically,” but if you love humanities, there is room for you, provided you are dedicated and have passion. Treat your studies like a profession. Already as you get to your junior year, begin devoting your time and energy to the humanities like your engineering friends do to their degrees. Work outside the curriculum, learn new languages, travel, read broadly. Classics (or English, or Japanese) is every bit as demanding as engineering if you take it seriously.

If you could have dinner with one person or a few people from history, whom would you choose and why?

I’d love to have dinner with Constantine the Great – the first Roman emperor publicly to convert to Christianity, and a big part of the reason why the West took many of the directions it did. He was a bundle of contradictions: a brilliant military strategist who by the end of his life wanted to be a priest; a convert to Christianity who filled his new capital with images of himself as a pagan sun god; a preacher of Christly virtues who managed to have his wife and son executed. How would he explain all that? I’d come armed.

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