Geoffrey Wertime

Geoffrey Wertime

ΦΒΚ, Vassar College Occupation: Skadden Fellow, Staff Attorney at Housing Work Field(s) of Study: French (undergrad), law (grad)


In a few words, my passion is: to advocate for those who can’t represent themselves.

If money and time were of no concern, what would you do for the rest of your life?

I currently have a fellowship from the Skadden Foundation to provide legal services to people living with HIV/AIDS and fighting homelessness in New York City. My work is focused locally, but with unlimited resources, I would expand this work overseas to support the rights of poor, LGBT people and those living with HIV/AIDS everywhere.

Tell us a little about your first job after college. 

I spent a year in rural France as an English teaching assistant. It started out lonely but eventually I gained my footing as a teacher and a member of the community. I volunteered teaching English to seniors and joined the local aikido club, and by the end of my time there I ended up feeling very warmly towards a place that had scared me when I arrived.

What course in college had the greatest impact on you and why? 

My Senior Translation class allowed me to workshop a translation of a French piece of writing, the novel “Péplum,” by popular Belgian author Amélie Nothomb. The class helped me develop my love of translation and gave me something to be proud of—a finished translation that, as yet, is the only one of the book that I know of.

What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you? 

A French professor, Cynthia Kerr, told my class something that really struck me at the time: “Never believe anyone who says they’re smarter than you.” It was a great reminder of so many things: that intelligence isn’t so easily measured or judged, that it’s multifaceted, and that people are too quick to judge themselves positively and others negatively.

How has your liberal arts education impacted your life personally or professionally?   

My grounding in the liberal arts gave me the flexibility to explore multiple fields after graduation: teaching, journalism, political organizing, and now, law. If my undergraduate studies had been hyper-concentrated, I never would have had the breadth of knowledge or elasticity of mind to move among those different areas. Though a French major, I took numerous courses in psychology, German, Old English, and several other subjects. What Vassar really taught me wasn’t a set of facts, but how to think critically, solve problems, and learn new systems. Now, as a lawyer, I rely on those skills every day to find the often complex solutions that will keep my clients from becoming homeless.