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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Reunion Reflections: Storytellers

Reunion gave me a chance to chat with my seventh grade
math teacher, Mr. Cavanaugh. 
I celebrated my 35th reunion at Holy Cross College this weekend. It was a wonderful celebration marked by special dinners, receptions, a mass, and lots of informal gatherings and talks. Overall the weekend was one of storytelling as Holy Cross alumni from multiple classes relayed stories to one another of their days at Holy Cross and their lives since then.

There were a number of memorable moments that occurred throughout the weekend that will impact my parenting and teaching in the days ahead. First there was my long talk with a graduate of the Class of 1951. Dr. Finn who became a long time Physics professor at Georgetown University told me of his choice to attend Holy Cross in 1947, his experiences as a track star at the college, and the impact the war had on he and his classmates. We further went on to discuss politics a bit and today's American culture. Dr. Finn felt that young people today, in a sense, were sometimes too focused on their rights rather than their responsibility to learn and work hard. He felt that it was an educator's job to make sure that his or her class behaved in ways that helped them to learn well and gain as good an education as possible. He also told me about the early morning talk that he and his classmates heard--a talk that I wish I had attended too as there's lots to learn from intergenerational exchange. This is particularly true at this crossroads in American politics and culture. With this in mind, I'd like to find ways to build in greater intergenerational talk and effort with regard to our programs and professional learning at school.

I also happened to to meet with my seventh grade math teacher, Mr. Cavanaugh. Mr. Cavanaugh had a tremendous impact on all of his students. He taught with kindness, care, confidence, and knowledge. He made the time to give his students the personal attention that forwarded our learning and success. Mr. Cavanaugh also led a middle school running club. My brother and sister would arrive at middle school (actually junior high back then) to run a few miles every morning before school. This extra activity had a wonderful impact on my brother and sister as my sister went on to start a girls' track team at her high school and later was a successful track star at University of Massachusetts. My brother later ran track at Holy Cross College where Mr. Cavanaugh had become the track coach. Throughout the years Mr. Cavanaugh has gone beyond the call of duty to help my family out in a number of ways, and I'm sure he's done the same for thousands of students so it was a great treat to see him yesterday.

Just prior to our class dinner, I sat down and talked to three graduates from the Class of 1971 who relayed many stories of how the Vietnam War affected them and their classmates. I remembered that period in time from my vantage point, but it was impactful to hear how the draft, war, and protests affected them as young college students. It was also interesting to discuss with them the impact on computers and their thoughts on education in general. Earlier in the morning, graduates from the Class of 1976 sat with a classmate and I at breakfast. We had a good discussion about the movie, Spotlight, and we wondered what issues today are we ignoring or not investigating in the same way people turned a blind eye on the sexual abuse crisis in the church and elsewhere. I offered the thought that child poverty and care for children today is an issue that might arise later as one that we have not treated with equity, good intent, or depth as there are too many underserved, poor children in our nation and world. I think we can do a better job. Other issues that came up were issues of substance abuse and sexual aggression--issues that impact colleges, universities, work places, and families.

My experiences at Holy Cross were often experiences related to deep thought and discussion, but we also had a lot of laughs and good times, and with my own classmates from the Class of 1981, we mainly remembered the good times of what seemed like a simpler world then. We had lots of parties on campus back then, and we mostly stayed on campus and got to know one another through classes, friendships, relationships, and common endeavor. I also enjoyed listening to classmates' stories about their 35-year paths after college--paths that mostly included career advancement in specific fields, parenting, some travel, and sadly, some hardships too--hardships mostly related to lost loved ones. I sense a bit of a rebellious thread too especially from my Holy Cross classmates who worked in any kind of service to others professions such as teaching and medicine--we all relayed a few stories about how we've stood up to try to make our systems of education and health care better and how that advocacy has, at times, been very challenging. Yet, as we spoke, it was clear that the roots of our advocacy, in many ways, were roots born out of a desire to make life better for those we serve--a theme that we learned about again and again through Holy Cross's Jesuit traditions and teaching.

I've always been a bit daunted by returning to the college reunion, but this year I went with an open mind--I really wanted to connect with my old friends and learn the stories of my college comrades. Their stories, laughter, and care truly inspired me with a sense of renewal with regard to all I learned during those wonderful four years on the hill. I'm sure more stories and memories will return in the days ahead, but for now, these notes will help me to remember the tales and experiences that stood out the most during this terrific weekend.