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Meeting my wife Jill


University life: the fraternity system
Donald Knuth Scientist
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At Case, as I said, I pledged a fraternity. That was one of the things that… I'd met a few Case graduates in Milwaukee – or... or Case students – before, and they… they said, ‘Oh, Don, fraternities are the big thing at… you've got to take that very seriously when you go there’. Well, anyway, the fraternity system was maybe a little different then than it is now. It certainly had its… its pros and cons, but it was a big… it was certainly a focus of my life at… at Case, because after my freshman year I… I would live at the fraternity, and with all my… with all my fraternity brothers. The… the first thing, though, was something we called Hell Week… raising. This is – or hazing – I mean, I'm sorry, forget that I said raising. And… and for 7 days, all of us pledges, before we could become full-fledged fraternity members, were at the mercy of… of all the other brothers, who would… who would have their paddles, and also, you know, we were sleep deprived, and basically they were… we were also cleaning the fraternity house.  So… so that's when I learned about, you know, ammonia and painting things, and scrubbing walls, and… and doing other, you know, fixing the roof, and things like this, that we would be doing.  But then… but meanwhile they would also… we would also… they would play tennis where we were the balls, and they would, you know, swat us, and it… it hurt; and do other things to make sure that, you know, we knew that they had the power and… and we were just unimportant now.  So… so this is illegal now, and, but it was my equivalent of going through boot camp, I guess, which, you know, I never went into military service. And, you know, I matured an awful lot during that week. After that week… and I had gotten through without the, you know, this… this time, I had a confidence that I'd never had before, so it's hard for me to say that I wouldn't want my son to go through the same thing. I don't think he ever did, but it's a paradoxical thing, in my… in my estimation. Still, that was… that was part of getting into the fraternity, and I have a picture of myself that they took at the end of it, unshaven, and looking pretty beat, but… but still knowing that I had come through an ordeal, which was something… which was something.  It's a question in my mind, how… how to really give that education to somebody in a way that is legal… would be legal. Now we'd have people suing.

Born in 1938, American computing pioneer Donald Knuth is known for his greatly influential multi-volume work, 'The Art of Computer Programming', his novel 'Surreal Numbers', his invention of TeX and METAFONT electronic publishing tools and his quirky sense of humor.

Listeners: Dikran Karagueuzian

Trained as a journalist, Dikran Karagueuzian is the director of CSLI Publications, publisher of seven books by Donald Knuth. He has known Knuth since the late seventies when Knuth was developing TeX and Metafont, the typesetting and type designing computer programs, respectively.

Tags: Case Institute of Technology, Milwaukee

Duration: 3 minutes, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008