Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Sid Salter: MSU's Wolverton Completed His Magnificent Run of Learning From Teaching

For a man who taught and understood the intricacies of Latin, there can be no higher praise for Mississippi State University icon Dr. Robert Wolverton than to assess his life and work by the old Latin proverb docendo discimus - “by teaching, we learn.”

The phrase is the motto of many universities and government entities worldwide. It is attributed by some scholars to the Stoic philosopher Seneca – although that attribution is far from universally shared.

But what does it mean? To many, it is a paradox – to become a great teacher is to remain a student; to be a great student is to teach.

When he died Dec. 15 at his home in Starkville at the age of 94, there was no confusion in Wolverton in the concept of that Latin phrase. He was a master teacher who held the admiration and respect of faculty, staff and students, but he also possessed what T.S. Eliot called “an experiencing nature” in that he surely and intentionally learned from his students and told them so.

In a higher education career that spanned 70 years (including over 40 years at MSU), Wolverton never lost touch with his love of classroom teaching as a classicist. At State, he served as a professor of classics and the university’s vice president for academic affairs and other administrative roles.

The Indiana native held academic positions at the University of Georgia, Tufts University, and Florida State University. Wolverton held a bachelor’s degree from Hanover College, a master’s from the University of Michigan and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina. He also received an honorary Doctor of Letters from the College of Mount St. Joseph.

At MSU, Wolverton was in 2004 named a Grisham Master Teacher, the university’s highest teaching honor and in 2014, he became the first recipient of the College of Arts and Sciences Legacy Award, an annual honor that now bears his name. The rotunda in the Old Main Academic Center was named in his honor – an architectural feature that thousands of MSU students pass daily on the way to and from their classes.

So how important is the influence of Latin teachers in developing the minds of young scholars? Here’s what Mississippi’s legendary novelist Eudora Welty – winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom – said:

“It was my first-year Latin teacher in high school who made me who made me discover I’d fallen in love with it (grammar). It took Latin to thrust me into bona fide alliance with words in their true meaning. Learning Latin fed my love for words upon words in continuation and modification, and the beautiful, sober, accretion of a sentence. I could see the achieved sentence finally standing there, as real, intact, and built to stay as the Mississippi State Capitol at the top of my street.”

I came to know Dr. Wolverton first in the classroom when I was privileged to study Ancient Greek and Roman history under his guidance and later to reconnect with him during my own MSU teaching days. I still have the textbooks from the course he taught me and the experience of being in his class was nothing short of theater in the round.

Beyond his academic skills, Dr. Wolverton was an encourager and an inspiration to faculty and students alike and was an icon of civility and integrity. He was a great father and grandfather and his devotion to his beloved wife, Peggy, was inspiring. Mrs. Wolverton died in 2019 at the age of 89 in the 67th year of their marriage.

In 2016, Wolverton granted an interview to MSU’s Alumnus Magazine in which he shared with editor Susan Lassetter his thoughts about his life and work: “People ask me why I keep doing this and it’s because there’s so much joy,” said Wolverton. “No one can say I don’t have enthusiasm for my field, but I have equal enthusiasm for my students.”

“It’s almost a cliché but it’s true: I think most teachers really, really, really enjoy the interaction with their students. That’s what keeps us going, keeps us young, really.”

Docendo discimus - “By teaching, we learn.” Thanks for teaching us, Dr. Wolverton.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at


Anonymous said...

Dr. Wolverton was such a joy! So thankful to have had him as a professor!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Wolverton was a great professor! Always smiling, always teaching. A prince among men. Vale, Magister!

Anonymous said...

Guess what Sid...By parenting, we learn about children.

Recent Comments

Search Jackson Jambalaya

Subscribe to JJ's Youtube channel


Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS