By the end of his first semester at Brandeis, things were falling into place. A 96 in English wiped away much of the stigma of the 60 earned 2 years before. For good measure, Stallman backed it up with top marks in American History, Advanced Placement Calculus, and Microbiology. The crowning touch was a perfect 100 in Physics. Though still a social outcast, Stallman finished his 11 months at Brandeis as the fourth-ranked student in a class of 789.

"He used to be so conservative," she says, throwing up her hands in mock exasperation. "We used to have the worst arguments right here at this table. I was part of the first group of public city school teachers that struck to form a union, and Richard was very angry with me. He saw unions as corrupt. He was also very opposed to social security. He thought people could make much more money investing it on their own. Who knew that within 10 years he would become so idealistic? All I remember is his stepsister coming to me and saying, `What is he going to be when he grows up? A fascist?'"

By fall, Stallman was back within the mainstream population of New York City high-school students. It wasn't easy sitting through classes that seemed remedial in comparison with his Saturday studies at Columbia, but Lippman recalls proudly her son's ability to toe the line.