College was a really formative time in my life. I know that this was the case for Zeke. That he embraced the freedom to rediscover himself is signaled most obviously by the fact that all of us who met him in Hanover know him as Zeke, not as Chris or Christopher. In fact, because the Dartmouth email system – known colloquially to students as “Blitz” – allowed you to choose people to write to you using nicknames that linked to your email, I didn’t find our Zeke’s real name until years after we had met.
Although I never took a class with Zeke, I remember being immediately attracted to his bubbly, magnetic personality when we first met through an event organized by the German Department. Although we shared a circle of friends, he and I really connected and became close as a result of a series of conversations about how to deal with our multiple different identities. Like Zeke, I am also the product of a trans-Atlantic family. In many ways, my childhood growing up in the US and then moving to Slovenia for high school was the inverse of his experience as a child in Europe, who then moved to the US for high school.
What we shared, however, was a certain sense of dislocation and uncertainty about what the US meant to us – an uncertainty that spending college in Hanover allowed us to navigate and explore together. For both of us, our time at Dartmouth – both in Hanover and in Germany on exchanges organized through the College – helped us to think through what “being American” meant to us and how this aspect of our backgrounds fit in with the rest of our backgrounds. In fact, I think that it is no accident that so many of Zeke’s friends at Dartmouth were either international students or Americans who had similarly split-identities.
Instead of choosing between the different aspects of his life, Zeke used his time in Hanover to become comfortable inhabiting various different positions – often all at the same time. As far as I know, he is one of the only individuals to not only live in language immersion housing for two different languages, but also to act as a supplementary language teacher – a “drill” instructor in Dartmouth-speak – for two different languages.
So many of my memories of Zeke from Hanover are from parties at the Max Kade German Center and the Italian Language Program, where you never knew what language the group next to you would be speaking. Zeke was the life of these parties, a twinkle in those deep, piercing blue eyes as he switched effortlessly between languages while chatting enthusiastically with everyone, from old friends to people he had just met. In full embrace of the German-side of his identity, I will also always remember Zeke inducing me into FKK – Freikörperkultur or “free body culture” – during a night swim in the Connecticut River, which he insisted must be in the nude, and which was done from the Vermont side of the river, safely out of the reach of the Dartmouth Safety & Security officers, who for some inexplicable reason didn’t see skinny dipping as a form of cultural expression….
It is an interesting fact that Zeke graduated from Dartmouth without a major. In this, as in so many other things, he did not conform. Instead, as one of the few Senior Fellows chosen by the College each year, Zeke completed his degree by planning, fundraising and conducting a “completely historically accurate” Mozart Requiem where only those notes that could be historically verified as having been composed by Mozart himself were performed. While unusual, I like to think that this performance is representative of Zeke’s passion for music and his inquisitive desire to understand the background of everything he did and everyone he met.
Since graduation, it has been my pleasure to be part of Zeke’s “Big Green mafia,” as he lovingly referred to his friends from Dartmouth. Over the past 15 years we have met up many times – almost always in a different place – to enjoy concerts, wonderful food, skiing and, of course, nude swimming. Regardless of how much time had passed, Zeke was always there for me when I needed him and we were always able to pick right back up from where we had left off when we saw each other again. I still cannot believe that Zeke is gone. There is a part of me that still thinks that if I call him, he will be there to pick up the phone and pick me up with his enthusiasm and boundless positivity.
In his honor – and in celebration of the fact that he will always be with all of us who met him at Dartmouth – I would like to conclude with a poem that I first learned from one of our mutual mentors, Professor Steven Paul Scher, who unfortunately passed away while we were still students. I can think of no better way to remember Zeke – and to celebrate his life and enduring influence on all of us – than with the poem we recited for Professor Scher at the time.
This is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “Wandrers Nachtlied II,” the second “Wanderer’s Nightsong”:
Über allen Gipfeln
In allen Wipfeln
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.