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From Eastern to Harvard to China

From across the world in China, where he is a college professor, Leonard Neidorf reflects on his accomplishments and how Eastern helped shape them.

When he went to Eastern Regional High School, Leonard Neidorf wasn’t always the most motivated student. He described himself as apathetic and not very ambitious academically.

A few years later, he was polishing up some work at the Widener Library at Harvard University when he received a phone call. After hanging up, he went straight back to working, even though he had just achieved one of the greatest academic achievements in the country.

Neidorf had learned he was accepted into the Harvard Society of Fellows, one of the most prestigious and coveted programs in the country.

“I knew it would be the ideal job for me after receiving my PhD,” he said.

Neidorf is a 2006 graduate of Eastern, which he credits for helping form his education. He studied English and Classics at New York University, where he graduated summa cum laude in 2010.

The Society of Fellows is a three-year fellowship awarded to only 12 scholars a year.

“They must be persons of exceptional ability, originality, and resourcefulness, and should be of the highest calibre of intellectual achievement,” the Society of Fellows’ website reads.

Neidorf fits the description comfortably.

“I study the oldest works written in the English language, such as those composed between 600 and 1100, and I study anything else that might shed light on those works,” Neidorf said.

He dedicated much of his time to studying Beowulf. He published the books The Dating of Beowulf: A Reassessment and The Transmission of Beowulf.

“Beowulf is an attractive work because there are many unanswered, or inadequately answered, questions surrounding it. When was the poem first composed? Is it the work of one author or multiple authors?” Neidorf said. These are some of the questions he tackles in Transmission, which was published this year.

Neidorf does not reside in Voorhees — he moved to China in 2016 to become an English professor at Nanjing University. It was a big move, but Neidorf describes it as overwhelmingly positive.

“The culture is obviously very different, but I find that it agrees with my disposition,” he said. “There is much reverence for education and educational achievement here.”

Despite all his achievements, Neidorf didn’t always know he would be a professor and a scholar. During his underclassmen years at Eastern, he considered becoming a filmmaker due to a media elective he took.

But then he found his calling.

“Tom Thompson made a greater impact on my academic career than any other educator before or after him,” he said. Thompson is a social studies teacher at Eastern.

Despite his long list of achievements, Neidorf wasn’t always the academic wrecking ball he is now.

“I was an apathetic and not very ambitious student during my first two years of high school,” he said.

Neidorf credits Thompson and other teachers at Eastern for motivating him as a student. He appreciated the adult environment Thompson created in his classroom that made him realize the importance of what was being taught.

“The commitment to learning that I developed during my junior year of high school remains with me to this very day,” he said.

Whether he’ll end up in South Jersey, China or elsewhere remains to be seen, but one certainty in Neidorf’s life is how long he will continue studying.

“For the rest of my life,” he said.

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