“Whoever the most intelligent person you think you know is, Pete is more intelligent.”
I have a little time this holiday and thought I’d give the full version of what I know about Peter; or, rather, what I know about his upbringing, his intellect, and the town he’s bringing back.
I met Peter when he was a kid. I came to his house for dinner when he was on the verge of teenage-hood. I don’t remember much about him. All I know is that his dad would talk about him all the time, and Peter was the apple of his eye. So actually I knew his father, Joseph A. Buttigieg.
Professor Buttigieg had a reputation for being “brilliant” among his students and colleagues. I was intimidated by his reputation and his field of critical theory (specifically, Marxist theory), but, as I had just decided to attend graduate school in English, this topic was indispensable for my future. I registered for his senior seminar, an intimate class of 12 students. His reputation proceeded him. He was brilliant. In fact, he was so brilliant that I had never met anyone so smart, nor have I since.
I have worked in top-notch academic programs throughout my life and, still, Joseph A. Buttigieg remains unmatched in intellect. But what I didn’t know was how that intellect wasn’t just performative. He used it to explain very difficult concepts to us. He connected everything to an ethical framework and the big universal questions. He used it to empower and inspire us to write and think for ourselves. That’s because his soaring intellect was also partnered with a deep kindness and affinity for other people. He made time for everyone. In fact, once, I sat in his office for two hours just giggling with him about The Simpsons. I kept thinking I was wasting his time, but he showed no impatience–no sign that he had better things to do. And when he had us over to dinner, he managed to serve me humble pie, though it was not on the menu.
Professor Buttigieg lived just two blocks down the residential street where my boyfriend lived–and where I spent most of my time. My boyfriend’s house was run down a bit and just off a busy throughway. We would always drive to it through the alley and walk in the back door. It was not until Professor Buttigieg’s invitation that I walked through the front door of that house and looked around me. As I walked deeper into that neighborhood, I recognized the dignity and beauty of the street, the grace of a former bustling, proud town. Professor Buttigieg’s house was a revelation in its historic charm.
It was there I realized that the Saint Joseph River pulsed just a stone’s throw away from us, and, it, too, was as much of a landmark as Notre Dame. Before that dinner, I had thought of South Bend as a crappy small city that had little to do with me. I realized my smug attitude was shameful, and from then on, I resolved to learn more about the city that had hosted me for nearly four years. I started taking walks in our shared neighborhood and checking out the local parks. I went to the Studebaker mansion for Easter brunch. After graduation, I always rooted for South Bend just as I rooted for Notre Dame football.
When I heard that Peter had become the mayor of South Bend, it somehow all made sense. Of course he would love that town, as his parents had. And of course he would turn it around, because he was the golden child of wonderful, deeply sensitive, and intelligent people. And South Bend is turning around, after decades of stagnation. I can sense it when I visit.
Peter’s dad recommended me for graduate school and opened a wonderful career for me for which I am grateful. Peter is not his father, but every time I hear him speak–or laugh–I hear and see his dad. I deem both men exceptional: once-in-a-lifetime exceptional. I don’t have much hope these days, but I believe in Peter’s ethics, powerful intellect, and humanity.
Lots of candidates deserve our support and attention. This one, though. I think he is quite something else.