I’d never met Henry Schmidt when he was selected for One in 2000. I was surprised that there was a sophomore left on this campus whom I hadn’t at least met briefly, and a bit unsure as to how to chat up a complete stranger. But when we finally did sit down, I realized that he was practically an old pal. Between our shared redneck roots and proclivity for nerdiness, we had plenty to discuss, including how it’s possible for a last name to contain six consonants and only one syllable.
Since we’ve never met, you can be whomever you want in this interview. You could say you’re Batman, and I’d have no way to disconfirm.
That’s not something you should tell me. I once convinced this girl that I was a tailor in Milan for a gap year. She was so confused when I told her the truth!
That’s something every journalist likes to hear about the source for an article.
Yeah, I was a WOOLF leader, and by the end of the trip, my WOOLFies thought I was a pathological liar. I would tell them things that were really absurd about myself that I thought no one would believe, but if you say it with a straight face, people actually believe you.
Noted. I won’t believe a thing you say for the rest of this interview. But tell me about WOOLF. Were you roughin’ it?
Oh gosh, were we roughin’ it! I had this sweet group. I mean, they’re all sweet groups, but this was a sweet group. My trail magic was watermelon.
You couldn’t have picked something lighter?
Our theme was Huck Finn! I had the image of cresting the top of this mountain and pulling these massive, ridiculously heavy watermelons out of my backpack and capturing their hearts.
How’d that work out?
We were almost at the top of this mountain, and I wanted to leave and be there before everybody else, so I told my co that I was going to go the bathroom and that they should go ahead. But instead, they stayed there and looked all over the place. They heard a scream in the woods and thought I was dying or something.
Again, illustrates how no one should believe anything Henry Schmidt says.
I know! So then I ran back down and yelled ‘Yo there’s a goose on the mountain! It just laid two big eggs,’ which made them more confused, but they followed me. But then – and it was sort of a theme for the trip that everything I planned got messed up – these watermelons had congealed to the consistency of flesh. Like, the watermelon had fermented in my backpack. But at the time it was just too ridiculously funny to even care.
So how’s it been readjusting to civilization? What are you up to?
It’s been good. I’m treasurer of WOC [Williams Outing Club]. It’s funny – I’ve never had a reason to know anything about managing money. So why don’t I just go be a treasurer for [one of]the largest student organization[s] on campus? It’s an obvious way to learn: baptism by fire.
You’re learning while in a position of political power. Like Sarah Palin.
I’m exactly like Sarah Palin.
In what other ways?
In no other ways.
What did you do last summer?
I worked at an art gallery, doing grunt research.
Really? Grunt research?
Ok, maybe that’s not the right word. But it was kind of a frustrating internship. Have you ever seen Kill Bill? My boss was O-ren Ishii. She had this insane deadpan voice, but was the most vicious person I’ve ever met. And I hope this issue never makes it into her hands.
Do you want to major in art history?
I don’t know. I’m a lost soul right now.
Me too! We’re kindred spirits.
Really? Help me out.
We’ll be alive another 80 years. Plenty of time to figure stuff out. But was it fun to reconnect with old friends while you were home.
Yeah. In high school, we were super-close. There’s this implicit agreement that whenever we get back together, we pick up where we left off. But yeah, it’s weird to think of what some of us were like before we came here.
I think a lot of us were nerds.
Really? I mean, I guess I was.
What’s your nerd passion?
I have every nerd passion. Every prototypical nerd thing you can think of, I’ve done. I’m a huge Star Wars nerd, a huge LOTR [pronounced lo-tar] nerd…
Lord of the Rings. If you’re a nerd, you call it LOTR. Then there were Magic cards, which I also indulge in every once in awhile.
While we’re on the subject of childhood, what kind of town did you grow up in?
You know, Missouri is an interesting mix. In high school, I did wrestling and track. In track, I saw urban St. Louis. In wrestling, I saw redneck Missouri. I love the redneck uniform – the lettermen jacket and the camo vest. It’s gotten to the point where mullets are too redneck to be redneck. If you see a redneck in a mullet, you know they’re not sincere.
I’m from rural Pennsylvania, and I’ve noticed a dearth of rednecks on campus. The administration should recruit some for diversity.
I was trying to do that last year!
You were trying to recruit rednecks?
I was trying to be that redneck! Obviously I brought my Cartheart jacket and camo hat. Also, I started using words like y’all.
I’m getting the impression that you have this multifaceted identity. The wilderness savior, the redneck, the cyclist…
The Supernerd. Yeah. But I’m comfortable here. If you’re comfortable, you can be who you are.
You seem have this easygoing attitude. Does anything annoy you?
I don’t know. I’m pretty patient.
Well if you could have a jail for any type of person, who would it be? I’ll tell you mine: parents who name their kids weird names.
Oh, funny story! If you’ve read Freakonomics, they mention these kids named Orangejello and Lemonjello. I met them. I volunteered at Aim High St. Louis, a tutoring program to help kids who are behind.
Orangejello and Lemonjello were struggling? Who’da thunk?
[Laughs] Yes, and I helped put them on the right path. Actually, I didn’t personally tutor them, but yeah. I taught math. The program was for kids who were taken out of class because they couldn’t operate in the classroom. These were classes of 35-plus kids, and the material just wasn’t sinking in. We were their support.
So what type of person would you send to the slammer?
Aggressive journalists. [Laughs] No, I think I would incarcerate people who can’t distinguish between belief and the truth. I get mad when I’m watching politics. People use statistics to support what are essentially their beliefs.
How did you end up here?
I’ve never told anybody this. Another fun fact: I’m currently living in the same room my mom lived in her sophomore year. Anyway, I was reading her alumni review magazine, and on the back there was one of those “I Am Williams” posters. There was a quote form this dude named Jared Oubre [’08]. It said ‘Desire is prayer.’ I thought about it a lot. Like, by wanting something, it’s because we worship something. It just seemed so spiritual – it got me thinking so much. I didn’t choose Williams for any concrete reason. But being here made me think in those ways. Tell Jared Oubre if he’s reading this that he had a sweet “I Am Williams” thing.