I met my first Austrians, and first libertarians, at Stanford University in the summer of 1988, at the Mises Institute's Advanced Instructional Program in Austrian Economics, which evolved into the annual Mises University. There were about 40 students, mostly PhD students in economics, with four instructors: Murray Rothbard, Hans Hoppe, Roger Garrison, and David Gordon. Lew Rockwell, Pat Barnett, and Jeff Tucker were there too.
What a week! I had never experienced anything like it. I had read some Mises and Rothbard as an undergraduate economics major, presumably comprehending very little, and had spoken by phone to Murray Rothbard, Israel Kirzner, and Mario Rizzo while considering graduate programs. But I had never really talked to anyone about Austrian economics, about free markets, about liberty and justice. Now here I was, surrounded by experts and fellow learners, listening, discussing, laughing, and arguing late into the night. The participants were smart, passionate about ideas, and eager to soak up more — even the speakers, whom I assumed knew everything already. (I remember sitting behind Rothbard at one of the other speakers' lectures and watching in amazement as he took page after page of notes in his distinctively unreadable scrawl.)
Until that conference, Austrian ideas had existed for me only in the university library (remember, there was no Internet in those days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth). Thanks to the Mises Institute, the Austrian School became to me a living, breathing entity — a social movement rather than a footnote in modern intellectual history. I felt a bit like Luke Skywalker, experiencing the Force for the first time during his light-saber training on the Millennium Falcon, when told by Obi-Wan Kenobi, "That's good. You have taken your first step into a larger world."