A Personal Odyssey: On Thomas Scheye, Ph.D.
Matthew Lehr, ’80, on Thomas Scheye, Ph.D.
April 2, 2012
Matthew Lehr, ’80, half-jokingly compares his freshman GPA to Daniel Simpson Day’s in Animal House. “It was pretty low,” he said. His sophomore year Lehr found himself taking an English course taught by Tom Scheye, Ph.D.
One day, Scheye pulled Lehr aside. “He said, ‘You’re way too smart to take this all as a big joke. You really owe it to yourself to take it seriously,’” Lehr recalled. “I don’t know what he saw because I certainly gave him no reason to see any ability at all.”
Lehr took Scheye’s words to heart—and when Scheye assigned the class Homer’s Odyssey, Lehr found he couldn’t put the book down. “It was a beautiful spring evening and I sat down and I read The Odyssey in one night, the whole thing. I remember sitting out on my stoop outside Ahern Hall seeing the sun come up, feeling I had accomplished this great thing.”
Today, even as an attorney heading the intellectual property litigation practice for Davis Polk—one of the nation’s top law firms—the Woodside, Calif., resident can still remember that moment as if it were yesterday. “That was it. It was literally a one-day turnaround.”
Lehr decided to major in philosophy, though he took several more courses with Scheye before graduation. “When I was an undergrad, he’d been talking about Shakespeare for a long time. He was so enthusiastic about the subject matter that even if you found it dry, he made it come to life,” said Lehr, who began a fellowship in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University after graduating.
“When I got to graduate school, I felt like I hadn’t done all that I should have done on Shakespeare in college because I had moved over to philosophy.” So in his spare time, the Hopkins graduate student went to the library to watch or listen to recordings of Shakespeare plays.
“And the funny thing about Tom is, I’m not sure he ever gave me a flat A. I think he may have given me A-minuses or B-pluses, even though I was doing really good work,” Lehr said. Scheye told him, “I want you to be motivated to do that extra little bit.”
“The truth is that the education that I got and the foundation that I got in college, those are the things that have stayed with me my whole life,” Lehr said. And Scheye? “He’s a guy who changed my life.”