The summer of 1990 was the most amazing summer I ever had. After all, in the fall I would be attending Wesleyan, a place that had captured my heart the first time I visited. Three semesters after arriving on the Wes campus, however, I went to Boston College for a year, and due to circumstances I stayed there until graduation. However, my heart was stolen by Wes, perhaps as the hearts of so many are captured by their first love. More importantly, I always longed to return in some positive way.
This spring I saw a real opportunity in returning to Wes to do a presentation as part of Earth Month celebrations. After all, since 1998 I had been researching, teaching, writing and exploring ways to make the world a better place through education. To be honest, when I started researching, I didn’t believe that real change could come through education, but I came to think otherwise, the result of which was the book I came to present, Ideas for America; Let the Sun In. (Salem House Press, 2012, 2015) After being penned in the schedule by a member of Wild Wes, I began the preparations for my glorious reconnect.
On Sunday, April 29, I arrived a few hours early for a talk scheduled for 7:00 in Usdan 108. As I came about one hundred feet from the previously unseen edifice, the fire alarm went off; a cacophany of bells, alarms and flashing lights on the building that made me to decide to try out lying on my back on the grass outside. I closed my eyes and listened to the joy and excitement in the young voices around me; it felt good to be back.
By 6:00 I was all set up and ready to go, but at 6:30 it came to me; no one was coming. Just before start time, the student government next door began a rendition of the Wesleyan fight song. As a member of the football team, I remember that song well; we sang it as we pounded our cleats into the floor of the old gym after beating Amherst at home, 21-14. So, it was an extra dose of bittersweet, particularly because student government had just kicked me out of that room. However, true to the independent Wesleyan spirit, I began my presentation “Building Peace and Progress on College Campuses”, alone. I channeled my positive and negative emotions into my presentation; I asked and answered forty questions I thought Wesleyan should be asking and answering together, ones that I synched with the ambitious mission statement I found on the home page of the Wesleyan College of the Environment. I exhorted the spirits in the room to come together and answer these questions with me, because that would mean the rise of the real Wesleyan; an institution with all the history and tools to be that “community on the hill”, one that could provide us with leadership in these dark and confusing times. It was a bittersweet, tragic and glorious night of a sort that only Wesleyan could provide me with.
Since, I took to reading The Argus again, and found the same spirit I remember. I noted the thoughtful reflection of Abigail Snyder on the April 16 edition of The Argus about her relationship to the holocaust, calling upon us to “reduce suffering for ourselves and others.” Victoria Hammit emphasized the importance of not just complaining about “the system”, but working hard to change it. The work of Sofi Goode and Gabe Rosenberg connected past and present for me, comparing the 1988 sit-ins with current efforts to divest from the prison system. The good news is that there really are responses to all these issues, ones that can start on college campuses. Additionally, I believe the process of asking and answering the forty questions in presentation could be great for Wesleyan in particular, where the hunger for positive change is strong and sincere. It could give meaning to work of students, professors and the mission of Wes. My role is to ask and answer the questions briefly, whereas presentation participants expand upon and find ways to apply these concepts. Best of all, this can all be fun and satisfying.
To see two idealistic articles I’ve written, please check out “Making Danvers Walker, Biker Friendly” (August 21, 2014) and “How Can Schools Respond to the Opioid Crisis.” (July 16, 2015) in the Salem News (Ma.) online. To request a presentation of the forty questions colleges should be asking, send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
All I’ve said above could also be said another way. It’s your time Wesleyan, rise!
Matthew Fraser attended Wesleyan in 1990.