This archived article was written by: Sam Czarnecki
Long-time associate professor of English, Larry Severeid is an enigma to most, but those of us who take his classes know and appreciate the passion he brings to class each day. After an astounding 40-year teaching streak at USU Eastern, he’s stepping down from his position at the end of this semester.
Severeid’s past is little-known, so I asked him to shed some light on what he did before deciding to became an English professor.
Q: What inspired you to teach English?
A: Well, I don’t know if I’d call it an inspiration. I had at least one major before I was an English major. In fact, I was a business major years ago. When it came time to transfer to UCLA, I said, “I kind of liked these English classes I’ve had.” One in particular was a world literature class, and part of it was the class and part of it was the professor. I thought, “Maybe I should do this.” People from way back in high school probably would’ve had a coronary if they’d seen me as an English major. That was the last thing they could’ve envisioned. It was later that I realized that I wanted to actually teach English.
Q: Do you like doing English better than business?
A: Oh yeah! There’s no doubt that I like doing English better than business. I knew that I would not be happy doing a 9-5 sort of job for 40-50 years. I would’ve gone insane. I needed a job that allowed me a certain amount of freedom and autonomy.
Q: Today’s standard of crazy is like going out and stealing a horse from a local ranch and riding it around while taking pictures for Facebook. What did you do when you were younger that might be considered insane and off the wall by today’s standards?
A: Well, I would occasionally hitchhike up the coast of California for a weekend to see how far I could get, see what kind of interesting/weird people would pick me up. I don’t know that it was really wild, but by today’s standards it probably would be. With the advent of the internet and cable/satellite TV and so many stories about dangerous people and the fear associated with them, I guess it’d be considered crazy today.
Q: Going up the coast with strangers sounds pretty fun, actually!
A: It was fun! It could’ve been dangerous, but this was the early 70’s. Once I got about a thousand miles, and I came back just fine.
Q: So people were more chill back then?
A: Oh yeah, a lot of people hitchhiked back then, it was not unusual. This was the later stages of the “Hippie Era,” so people would just take off for a weekend, see what happened, and then come back. Maybe. In one piece. I hope!
I had a backpack, change of clothes, maybe twenty bucks, but I didn’t have a contingency plan in case I got stuck. It was a simpler time, maybe, and we didn’t really have much fear. I think the average young person today would’ve been afraid to try back then.
Q: So hitchhiking was a part of the culture back then. What other things were trending back in the day that you don’t see a lot of now?
A: Students going to Europe and hitchhiking around Europe. Staying in youth hostels. There was a book at the time called “Europe on Five Dollars a Day,” although the title’s probably changed. People weren’t afraid to go various places around the world. It wasn’t the post-9/11 world that we live in today, and that really makes a difference.
Truly, it was a different world back then, and we have Severied to thank for this awesome inside look at his past. He’ll be honored at USU Eastern’s Founders Day program Friday, March at 7 p.m. in Jennifer Leavitt Student Center with the “Upon Their Shoulders” Award for his years of service to this institution. Make sure to come and show your appreciation for totally radical dude.