“Finding my way in school and in work was a complex, gradual process,” says University of Redlands English Professor Daniel Kiefer. “I originally wanted to be a priest because it was the highest aspiration for a working-class Catholic boy.”
Kiefer grew up near Detroit, Mich., where his father drove a laundry truck and his mother worked as a sacristan at the local church. “They had earned their high school diploma,” he says, “and they believed in the prestige of college.”
Kiefer thrived at his Franciscan seminary high school in Cincinnati, Ohio, but college seminary was a different story. “I turned belligerent in many ways—politically, sexually, and intellectually—and had to leave before the priests could kick me out,” he says.
He quit school with no intention of returning, and he took jobs of different kinds: sorting mail at the U.S. Post Office, working for a radical printer and publisher, and managing a hotel restaurant. Finally, after traveling around Europe, Kiefer enrolled at Boston University at the age of 26.
Although Kiefer was older than his fellow students and had a full-time job, he quickly renewed his interest in learning. His professors of English literature were very encouraging, especially when he decided to apply to graduate school. He was admitted to Yale for his doctoral studies, and those professors and students transformed his understanding of what a literary education could be.
Kiefer feels that his anomalous experience of college helped him to find his true calling as a teacher. He encourages first-generation college students to embrace the new possibilities that Redlands gives them—possibilities that their families may not envision.
Kiefer talks specifically about the value of a liberal arts education; “Beyond the practical advantages of a college degree in finding enjoyable work, the pleasure of learning in itself, in many different fields, will lead students to discover their own best minds.”