Universiteit Leiden

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‘Some think I’m too lightweight, others too highbrow’

Cornald Maas was able to ‘pioneer’ in Leiden. This Dutch Studies graduate, presenter, programme maker and publicist combined an active student life with studying hard.

Friends sang Cornald Maas’s praises when he completed his Master’s in Language and Literature with distinction in 1986. But Maas didn’t have to fight back the tears. He was thinking about how he’d never see almost all of those people again anyway. That wasn’t to say that he didn’t love the city, the academic culture and his friends, but Maas already had one foot in life as a journalist in Amsterdam, and he certainly didn’t want to think he was already looking back at the best days of his life. ‘I always realised that the fantastic time I had in Leiden would be short. I’ve never been overcome with melancholy at such a crossroads later or in life either.’

Student job

It was not by chance that his summer graduation party was held in the Leiden University Fund’s garden. Maas had a student job there as a press officer, the culmination of an almost endless list of activities in Leiden. ‘I live intensively and that gives me energy’, he explains with a shrug of his shoulders. ‘But my studies never suffered. I passed all my exams first time, learned Gothic and immersed myself in Plato.’

Sixty books

An achiever from an early age, Maas was born in Bergen op Zoom in 1962. His father, the owner of a transport company, and mother, ‘who had a succession of administrative jobs’, encouraged the young Cornald to develop to his full potential.

‘I soon assembled a library, with an ex-libris in each new acquisition saying “C. Maas Library”.  I was mad about life histories: Louis Couperus is still my literary hero.’ His passion for language was sparked by Father Van Vught, his Dutch teacher at the Roman Catholic Juvenaat Heilig Hart Gymnasium. ‘When he gave us tests, you got the questions a week in advance and he let us decide on our own grade. He would tell us: “Your mark is something between a 6 and an 8. It’s up to you do decide what you should get.” You then had to explain why.’ So he encouraged independent thinking. The reading list of 60 books was no problem whatsoever for Maas, and the decision to study Dutch was easily made.

Des res on Vinkenstraat

As a seven-year-old, Maas was already dreaming of living in Amsterdam, but his university town in 1980 would be on a smaller scale. ‘I would have been lost in Amsterdam. I knew Leiden from a Tienertoer [a cheap rail pass for young people, Ed.] and thought it plenty big enough. The scale of things in town invites you to be active, develop your talents and seek connection.’ His first lodgings with a Ms Maandag, in not exactly a des res on Vinkenstraat. (‘I was allowed to shower once a week’). He didn’t stay there long, nor as a member of Quintus, in the mixed fraternity Tangram. ‘I couldn’t settle in. It didn’t feel quite right. At that point, I had the usual prejudices about Minerva and its code and braggadocio. But I met some nice Minervans in my first year. So a fellow fraternity member and I made the switch, under the motto: might as well go the whole hog.’

Read the full interview (in Dutch) on pages 14-17 of Leidraad alumni magazine.

Text: Fred Hermsen
Photo: Frank Ruiter

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