Sunday, August 23, 2015

Denmark and the Jews

On a recent trip to Denmark, I visited the Jewish Museum, located in the former Royal Boat House in Copenhagen. It is small but architecturally significant, designed by Daniel Liebeskind, and presents a picture of Jewish Life in Denmark, including during World War II. In 1940, the German Nazi army invaded Denmark, and King Christian X signed a peace treaty, which left great autonomy for the Danish government, and included protection for Danish Jews from deportation to concentration camps. In August 1943, with concern about resistance in Denmark, the Nazis pushed the Danish government, which resigned; the Nazis then decided to move forward with solving the “Jewish Question”. Their plans leaked by a German official to the Danish parliament, thousands of Danes worked on transporting almost all of Denmark’s nearly 8,000 Jews across the Oresund to Sweden, a neutral country which accepted them. There is a popular story that, when the Danish Jews were told to put on yellow stars, King Christian appeared in public with one himself.  According the US Holocaust Museum, that story is fictional, and in fact Jews in Denmark were never forced to wear yellow stars. However, they also note that

“In the end, the Germans arrested and deported 476 Jews to Theresienstadt, a ghetto and concentration camp in German-occupied Bohemia (now a part of the Czech Republic), where 52 of them died. Even then, the Danish people sent parcels of food and provisions to their Jewish countrymen. The intense public focus generated by constant demands from the Danish Red Cross to visit the Danish Jews in Theresienstadt may well have prevented the Germans from deporting them to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center.”

99% of Denmark’s Jews thus survived, unmatched anywhere else in Europe. In the US Holocaust Museum, there are panels and panels of lists of people known to have saved the life of at least one Jew during the Holocaust. There are several panels of people from Italy, and from France, and many, many from the Netherlands many of whose people were heroic in the effort (including the ultimately unsuccessful effort to hide Anne Frank and her family). But as I kept looking for Denmark when I visited there, looking for a long list, I kept missing it. Then I found it. Very short. One entry only: “The Danish People”.

This still brings tears to my eyes; I can barely say it without sobbing, but here in Denmark it is more real. And I ask the question: Why? Why here? Well, there are many reasons. Sweden was one; it was a short distance away across a strait so narrow that it is now crossed by a bridge, and was willing to accept the Jews. Indeed, in answering my question, a Danish friend says “well, it was Sweden”. Undoubtedly, this is a big part of the truth. But it was not the Swedes who took thousands of Jews across the Oresund in fishing boats in the dead of night (the fishing boat has become a symbol of this effort; several Holocaust museums have acquired them, in Jersusalem and in Houston , and this one pictured in DC),  it was Danes.  Why them, so much more than the French, or Italians, or Poles, or Belgians or even the Dutch? Danish people say that it is just the way that Danes are; that the Jews were seen as Danes, as their countrymen, and that there is great social cohesion here; they point to the current social welfare state, the high taxes that ensure that the basic social needs of all Danish people are met, as evidenced of the national character. Undoubtedly, this too is part of the truth. In addition, there were not so many Jews in Denmark, so the Germans were less fixated on them, and it also seems to be the case that the fact that the Danes (and Swedes) were Nordic, blond, blue-eyed Aryans that Hitler admired made him deal less harshly with these countries.

There were Danish Nazis; we have seen their armbands in the city museum of Odense. But, still, it is a remarkable thing. And I don’t really know why; why the Nazi sympathizers were never as able to gain clout in Denmark as in other countries, including England and the US. There was no Quisling government as in Norway. I don’t know how it would have been if there had been 10 or 100 times more Jews, if they had been more recent immigrants from Eastern Europe. I don’t know what the French would have done if there had been a Sweden available. But I have a hard time believing that the people of any other country would have matched what was done by the Danes.

And I am grateful, and in awe.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

ISIS, Bank of America, Freedom and Idolatry

On the same day, August 15, 2015, on the New York Times Op-Ed page, Roger Cohen writes about the reasons that young Muslims from Western European countries might leave to join the Islamic State in Syria (“Why ISIS trumps freedom”), and Joe Nocera writes about how the “Bank of America stiffs shareholders”. What could be farther apart? A discussion about how disaffected, marginalized young people in the West find meaning for their lives in a structured, rigid, ideologically/religiously driven movement, and a discussion about how the board of directors of a huge bank (“too big to fail”) reverses a shareholder-led post-recession decision to separate the roles of the CEO and Board Chair? Well, there are similarities.

Cohen talks about “freedom from freedom”, from making hard choices, from taking responsibility for one’s own decisions. “Zealotry of any kind,” he writes, “subsumes the difficulty of individual choices into the exalted collective submission of dedication to a cause. Your mission is set. It is presented as a great one with great rewards. Goodbye, tough calls. Goodbye, loneliness.” You no longer have to decide what to do with your life. You no longer have to decide anything. You are told what to do and you do it uncompromisingly and uncomplainingly. Even though that includes sanctioned (nay, required!) murder (we’re not talking war here; we’re talking torture and beheading) and rape (see “ISIS enshrines a theology of rape” in the Times, August 13, 2015). Cohen discusses how this is built on not just a rejection of modern ideas like freedom – marry who we want, have sex with whom we want, pursue careers we want, believe what we want – but an overt hostility to them, a yearning for what people imagine things were like in the past (minus no Internet). He also notes that this rejection of modernism does not include rejection of the Internet, which ISIS uses freely and effectively. I add that it also effectively uses the ages-old technique of encouraging young soldiers to rape “the other” – turned into a religious duty! – thereby creating an outlet for young people (men) who have been forbidden to have sex or marry. Rape, slavery, and dehumanization of the other are timeless techniques used to create loyalty and commitment. Oh, yes, and they are horrific.

In his piece, Cohen refers to a book whose French hero, disaffected from modernism, converts to Islam and submits to the higher power (but does not, as far as we know, rape and murder). He also discusses, in less detail, how this has been a drumbeat by far-right (is the implication that ISIS murderers and rapists are of the left??) nativist and religious movements in Europe – rejection of “non-moral” modernism and freedom. It is, clearly, also seen in those movements in the US, and in the cults of submission to the guru/leader that are common, and occasionally burst into mass murders such as those led by Charles Manson in LA or mass suicide such as that led by Jim Jones in Jamestown. Cohen is usually an apologist for the Israeli government, and his criticisms of ISIS can certainly be seen in that light, but he is making very good points here.

OK, so there are similarities between ISIS and nativist movements and right-wing religious forces and cults. But what about the Bank of America? How does that relate to this? Nocera’s article discusses how, after 2009, a shareholder-led movement forced the (unwilling) BOA Board of Directors to separate the roles of CEO and Board Chair, based upon the principle that the Board has governance responsibilities, and is supposed to be the guardian watchdog over the actions of the management; this is impossible if the Board Chair and the chief manager are the same person. But, with less publicity, the BOA Board has recently amended its bylaws to allow current CEO Brian Moynihan to be Board Chair. “What the bank’s board did last October,” Nocera writes, “is not the biggest scandal ever; I know that. Instead, it’s the kind of small, corrosive scandal that too often marks the behavior of the modern company board.”

More to the point, he notes the criticism of a bank analyst who is the “most vocal critic of the board’s move” who was ”especially scornful of a Securities and Exchange Commission filing the bank made late last month in support of the board’s move. It touted Moynihan’s ‘unparalleled depth of understanding,’ and as proof, pointed to the $11.7 billion Bank of America earned ‘in the three quarters ending June 30, 2015.’ (There was no mention of the $4 billion accounting error.) ‘The gushing is like a teen magazine.’”

This is how we treat our heroes, our gurus; it is not irrational but it is dangerous. Idolizing a pop star is silly, but idolizing a CEO is virtually always wrong. It exempts them from criticism and leads to dictatorial power and guarantees disaster because no one person surrounded by “yes men” is going to always be right, or make the right decision. Why should it be surprising that there are similarities here to extreme religious movements, since making money is the true religion in our country, at least among its leaders. Right-wing politicians use issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and racism to appeal to the masses of voters in a way as cynical as ISIS, but their actual policies benefit banks and financiers and the management of huge corporations. We would, I suppose, like to think that the managers of these corporations are rational, market driven, and not corrupted by greed, but the evidence, from the market collapse of 2009 to bailout of too-big-to-fail shows this is not so. Paul Krugman writes in the Times of the arrogance and failure to manipulate the markets of the leaders of China (“Bungling Beijing’s stock markets”, August 14, 2015), but we see the same failings in Western corporate titans like Moynihan. We pay them incredible sums because “they” earned $11.7 billion in earnings (which may be in part from their management but certainly has other causes, not least the taxpayer bailout) while ignoring the $4 billion loss (hey, not their fault!).

Cohen’s article on ISIS and anti-freedom includes in its link to nativism a comparison to Russian premier Vladimir Putin, “another foe of the West,” who “attacks its culture from a similar standpoint: as irreligious, decadent and relativist, and intent on globalizing these ‘subversive’ values, often under the cover of democracy promotion, freedom and human rights.” Cohen is correct in noting that Putin, like ISIS, attacks “the West”, but as Nocera’s piece makes clear, the West is not free of these issues. The real problems are not those of too much freedom; they are the problems of too much corporate power and racism.

The cult of personality leading to blind obedience is always wrong, whether Hitler or Stalin or Putin or Mao or Moynihan or Charlie Manson or Jim Jones. But even when there is not a single dominating personality, as in ISIS or China’s leadership, blind obedience is still wrong. Freedom may be hard, and racism and prejudice and an economy that makes billionaires of a few and unemployed and hopeless of many in the West may make it seem harder, but it is also our hope, and is at the center of what we must pursue.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Herbie: 90 years and Brooklyn...

Late last month, my father turned 90. He’s in pretty good health (knock on wood, keyn eyn-hore,  כײן עַיִן הָרָע) though it looks different from his perspective than it does from that of most others. He lives on his own in the same Manhattan apartment he has for nearly 50 years (when it was new), walks several blocks every day to take his water aerobics class, and takes buses and subways to get around, both to doctors and museums and progressive events and occasionally to visit his remaining friends and acquaintances in nursing homes. He sometimes forgets things, but this seems to be not a lot more than most of us, and his analytic mind is sharp. It is harder on him when he flies places, but he still does. (The time two years ago when we both flew to DFW on Christmas Day and had to change planes to different places and a rare snow there meant the SkyTrain was out and the fact that it was Christmas meant no one was driving little carts and he had to walk from B15 to C36 – B to C is over the highway – was a challenge, but he did it fine.)

This is the part that other people see as great. For him, his left knee hurts a lot – he had his right knee replaced many years ago and it didn’t go well, so he never got the other done, and now it is really bad – so he has to count the days between SynVisc® injections. He is sometimes physically unstable. He hates that he forgets things. He sleeps a lot and takes daily naps (sounds good to me!). He never thought he’d make it anywhere near this long. His only brother was killed at 20 in the Spanish Civil War when my father was 14. His father died of cancer at 53. His mother died at 66. MY mother died, also of cancer, at 57. His oldest grandson, my son, committed suicide at 24. And here he is at 90, outliving most everyone of his generation; he just lost his last, and closest, first cousin. He knows people who are older, but most are homebound (or nursing home bound); a couple are still active, but it is rare that they see each other.

A birthday, he would be the first to point out, is just a day, one more. But it is symbolic, and the weekend before this day his children and grandchildren and spouses, none of whom live in New York, came to the city to spend time with him. In order to break up the constant eating, we rented a large van and driver and went to Brooklyn to see where he (and his children, also, in other neighborhoods) had grown up. We started in the south at Nathan’s (Famous) in Coney Island. This was a real high point. Nathan’s hot dogs and French fries are available in some airports around the country, but they taste different in Coney Island. And there are fried clam strips, hard to find anywhere in the Midwest. The clerks were apparently instructed to push Nathan’s “famous” Mac ‘n’ cheese, but none of us remember this from our childhoods as being part of Nathan’s. No, hot dogs (with brown mustard and sauerkraut), fries (the best in the world) and clam strips. And then, on a sunny but chilly day, walking around on the Boardwalk (there is, however, no more “under the Boardwalk” – sorry, Drifters – there was too much crime and drugs happening there), looking at the huge beach, and some of us (younger ones, and certainly not me) going on rides like the Thunderbolt (the roller coaster starts off going straight up vertical!) and the whatever-it-is-called that pendulums you back and forth starting way up in the air (Andy only). More on the carousel.

And finally we retrieved the driver and headed north, to Sheepshead Bay and to where we grew up. The kind of run-down, two family homes we rented an apartment in looking decades shabbier. But, amazingly, Zillow’s rated at about $1.8 million!! Come on! Then up past James Madison HS, my alma mater as well as my mother’s, and I was able to go into the swimming pool where the teams are now the Golden Knights, not the Highwaymen of my youth, and then to Kings Highway (after which the team name) and up to Brooklyn College, where my mother graduated and my father attended for a while. It is nice there; the quad is as I remember it, but there are more buildings to the west (I keep wanting to say south; I have a good sense of direction except when I think of Brooklyn, where I grew up I always think of what is in fact east as north and west as south, probably because the numbered “East” street where we lived ascend to the east.) Hanging around, my sister discovers a yellow parakeet. For real. Hopping around. The bird is catchable, to the entertainment of a little girl, who is worried it will die. We assure her it will not, as we place it in an empty coffee cup with a lid and an airhole, say goodbye to the girl, and the driver takes us was back south again to a Petco where Rita buys a cage and some birdseed. The bird is ravenous.

So we continue back north, through Flatbush, past Midwood and Erasmus high schools, and the old Ebbetts Field, into Crown Heights and then into Bedford-Stuyvesant where my father grew up. We drive past several addresses where he lived (they seem to have moved every six months or so; in the depression the first month was free), some of which buildings are still standing. We stop at the old Boys’ High, where he went, now not a regular high school (and not to be confused with the newer Boys’ and Girls’ high school not too far away).  It is an amazing, huge, castle-like building of gothic proportions. My father says he never saw the south side entrance in his years of going there; he lived to the north, and came in from that direction, or the east entrance. We wander around; across the street on the south side are big row houses, 4 stories plus basement. It is not the best neighborhood, even now, so we wonder what they would cost. Midblock they change to smaller, only 2 stories plus basement. One is for sale, and we look it up on a phone. Nicely renovated, 2200 sf, only $2.8 million. These prices are more than a little shocking for people from Kansas City.

We continue north, into and through Williamsburg, now hip to the north of the el-covered Broadway we are on and still Hasidic (including enclosed sukkahs built on the terraces) south of that street. Finally across the Williamsburg Bridge and back to Manhattan, tired and, on this Saturday afternoon in October so crowded we decide to even forego a stop at Yonah Schimmel for knishes, a major sacrifice, and make it back to his apartment in time for sunset. It was actually a great trip, and this is the consensus of a group of family who hardly ever all agree on what to do and whether it was fun.

And, I think, my father liked it. No matter how well he is doing, he and we know that he is 90, and that the opportunities to do things like this may be limited in the future.

Not too soon, though, we all hope.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A visit to the National Zoo

Having spent the last two weeks a short walk from the Smithsonian National Zoo in Woodley Park, I took that walk today, to and around the Zoo. It was good. I like zoos. Pat doesn’t, I think because of the fact that the animals are trapped in cages. I think this attitude mellowed a great deal many years ago after we spent the night at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, part of a program called Roar and Snore. It is remarkable how many species would now be extinct if they only existed in the wild, and have been restored by breeding programs in zoos.

Zoos also have a lot of families, with kids and strollers, which can be inconvenient. Strollers take up a lot of room, and while large groups of teenagers (like the band from Toronto HS in Toronto, OH, who are apparently here to take part in the Memorial Day parade, and are identifiable by their T-shirts) reduce their impact by dividing into groups of 5 or 6, families (even as small as 3, and frequently quite a bit bigger, especially with grandparents) have a way of blocking things up. Someone – an adult, let us be clear -- is usually leading the way off, while looking back at the group rather than in the direction they are headed. 

I like the kids. I like them most of the time even when they are crying, or walking back and forth across the path following a line that may be imprinted on the ground in elephant footprints or may be only in their head. Even if they bump into me, although usually I see them coming. I think, unsurprisingly, it brings me back to when I had young children, and how wonderful and exciting it was to go to places like the zoo. (And, sadly, those good memories also lead to other ones, not so good.)

Of course, my boys were wonderful and – this is actually true – we didn’t have strollers. When they were too big for a backpack, they walked (ok, spelled sometimes by being carried). What is it with these strollers, sometimes for kids who look 4 or 5 years old? I am amazed about their ubiquity all over the city. At one time strollers were a step forward, in the sidewalk-space-occupying sense, from the big perambulator-type baby carriages, but now they have grown larger, so that many (especially the ones for two kids) approach the size of a motorcycle with side car. 

Which reminds me that other groups were wearing their motorcycle club colors (all the ones I saw from outside DC, MD, or VA) another nice thing; people of all kinds enjoy getting out in the zoo. Incredible numbers of races, ethnicities and national origins, not infrequently mixed in the same family. 

It helps that it was a nice day. I saw lions, and tigers and bears (oh, my!) and apes and wolves and ibises and alpacas and Przewalksi horses and Amazonian sting rays. Now I have had lunch and am headed toward downtown to see some memorials.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Santa Fe April...Fry and the coyotes

Well, I’ve been in Santa Fe pretty continuously for more than 6 weeks, and have a routine. Wake, take dogs out (Fry on leash) for shortish hike, have breakfast, work, then maybe go to Eldorado to work out. Nap, work, take a longer hike.

It is beautiful. This will be mostly a vehicle for pictures.

We do worry about Fry; he goes off and comes back in his own time, and there are coyotes out there. Why I don’t like him out at the dawn and dusk times when they are more active (like deer; the word is crepuscular). Last summer, he got attacked by coyotes and had some bites, so we have reason to worry; haven’t seen many in a while, but that means little. Also means little to him; he really doesn’t learn.

Monday, I took Pat to the airport in Albuquerque. It snowed last night, not a lot, but the morning walk was colder than it has been in weeks, about 23. Gray skies and some flurries. The snow is good; we need all the moisture we can get; several years of drought. By the time we got past Santa Fe, no snow on I-25, and down a little more bright sun. Albuquerque nearly 50 when I dropped Pat off about 10:30, 10:45, and the trees that had had white and pink flowers last time we were down there were now green.

But as we came back up the hill toward Santa Fe, the skies got grayer and the temperature dropped. By the time we hit home, it was 27 and flurrying. I opened the back of the car just a little, as I usually do, to tell them to sit before I opened it all the way and with maybe 8-10 inches open Fry was out and gone. Yonkel out too, but not gone. Didn’t see Fry back for about 2 hours. 

So I worked for a while, and about 4:30 got ready to go for a walk. Sweatshirt, windbreaker, tie on boots (may be muddy out there), sunscreen, sunglasses, hat – getting ready to walk out. But they are barking like there was a rabbit out there. Because there is a rabbit out there. I decide to wait for a couple of minutes, presuming the rabbit will be wise enough to run off. He is not. I am getting antsy. I open the door, and the two of them are off, giving chase, even Yonkel looking young. They do not, I think, catch the rabbit but they are gone. I had assumed that 1) Yonkel would come with me after a few minutes, and 2) Fry would go off on his own as usual, so what’s the difference?
Neither one came to join me. I kept calling. Hike was very lovely, around and back through the valley. Took about an hour. Yonkel sitting on the deck when 
I got home. No Fry.

About a half-hour later, up Fry runs being chased by two big coyotes. I open the door to 1) let him in, and 2) chase the coyotes off, and, instead, Yonkel bolts out and the two of them chase the coyotes off. After a minute or so they come back, with me frantically yelling. Yonkel comes in, Fry stays out, avoiding me. Looking out for the coyotes to chase! Licking at his sides. Must have been bitten again, but he won’t let me get near him.

I leave the door open and about 20 minutes later, needing a drink, Fry comes in. I examine him. Pretty big gouge out of his left hip, smaller cut down by right groin. I sponge them out with peroxide. (You think it’s easy, one person, holding a dog and putting peroxide on his wounds?)

I hope they don’t get infected. Obviously, having been chased and bitten, he’s learned his lesson – not! DIdn’t they immediately – and with Fry wounded -- both immediately give chase after them? It was heroic of Yonkel to go out after the coyotes, to protect Fry. It was brave of Fry, chased home and bitten, to immediately respond and join Yonkel in chasing them off. (It is unknown whether my presence on the deck had more to do with the coyotes’ departure.) Stupid, yes. Foolhardy, also. But heroic and brave. Heroic and brave often go together with foolhardy and even stupid. In dogs, and in people.

Leash for the next few days for sure. Leash and peroxide.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Geese at the Lake

It has been a long time since I have been down to the cabin at Lake Fort Scott; winter has been either too cold or we have been traveling and trying to get things done. But this weekend, with Pat out of the country, and the weather predicted to be in the mid-40s, I thought it was a good time to come down and clean up a little and winterize the house – or at least empty and turn off the refrigerator, both to keep stuff from going bad and keep our electric bill down, as it is old and inefficient -- in case we don’t come back for a while. As it turns out, we had guests a few weeks back and they left it cleaner than I ever do, so it is mostly shoveling out leaves and dirt from behind the house, and picking up stray branches.

My neighbors had written to me that there were flocks of geese gathered in front of my house, which apparently was the only unfrozen part of the lake (some combination, I guess, of shallowness and where the sun shines). When I got here mid-day on Saturday, it was obvious. Hundreds of geese sitting on the ice, but close to the open water to swim and feed. And, as the day warmed up into the mid 40s, the ope

n patch of water began to expand, and by sunset the amount of ice for the geese to sit on began to decrease. I was told that they put up a great racket at night, and I guess they might, but I didn’t hear them enough to bother my sleep!

And then, this morning, walking the dogs this morning the open area seemed even bigger. OK, let’s get this straight. Giving permission for the dogs to go on a walk, especially Fry. They won’t leave the area around the house alone, but will jump all over me to accompany them up the drive and to the road. Once there, however, while Yonkel will usually stay with me, or near enough to come when called, Fry is gone and one his own and comes back when he is good and ready. A great blue heron sat on the edge of the lake as we returned, and when startled by us, took off, scattering geese!

And now, at 11:30am, and temperatures in the low 50s, there is almost more water than ice! This afternoon it is supposed to get up to 61, so I imagine that this pattern will just increase. And the day is sunny, so it would be a lovely time to sit on the deck and read and watch the geese and the dogs cavort – were it not for the really high wind that makes being outside kind of unpleasant. I guess I’ll watch from inside. And soon time for lunch and a nap.

THEN I’ll clean out the refrigerator!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Roosevelt University: Diversity and Social Justice

On December 13, 2013, I attended the winter Commencement ceremonies at Roosevelt University in Chicago. As a new member of the University’s Board of Trustees, it was my first such event at Roosevelt; the Board had met the day before. I have, of course, been to other graduations. Some have been of family and friends, but most have been as a faculty member in medical school. I have sat on the stage looking out at the assembled graduates and families before, but never in the role of a Trustee, and never at Roosevelt.

Graduations are pretty special events. At the medical school graduation ceremony, we look on as our future colleagues march across the stage, many of them people we know and have taught, while their families watch and clap and sometimes cheer. We have pride in them, and also wonder how fast the time goes, remembering when they were just starting a few short years earlier. But the Roosevelt graduation was different, and not just because it was not a medical school and not just because I was there as a Trustee.

For starters, it was in Chicago’s beautiful Auditorium Theater, in the Auditorium Building designed by Louis Sullivan, opened in 1889 and about to celebrate its 125th anniversary next year. I have been there before but only in the audience; sitting on the stage looking out at this gorgeous auditorium whose balconies soar 6 or 7 stories, filled with 4,000 people, was amazing. Roosevelt owns the Auditorium, and the building has long been its home, but recently the 40-story Wabash Building has been built next to it, rising 40 stories, the top 27 dorms with priceless views, its own architectural splendor complementing in a very different way that of Sullivan.

There were also some special events during the graduation. The honorary degree recipient was Joe Segal, a Roosevelt alumnus who for 60 years has run Chicago’s Jazz Showcase, bringing all of the great jazz artists of those years to perform at a series of venues; I began attending his shows in the 1970s. Danielle Smith, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Special Education (and a minor in Spanish) was the first-ever current student to be commencement speaker. She was joined on the stage by Sheree Williams, receiving a Master’s in Early Childhood Education, who was the 85,000th graduate of the school (it took 60 years to get to 65,000 and only 6 for the next 20,000).

Those of you who read my last post, Suicide: What can we say?, know that the date, December 13, was also the 11th anniversary of my son Matt’s suicide. While the two facts are coincidental, they are not unrelated; my presence on the Board and thus at the graduation was entirely about Matt. A few years after leaving his first (quite elite) college and then obtaining an associate’s degree, Matt moved back to Chicago and enrolled at Roosevelt. He loved it. It was, and is, a school, originally established to focus on returning GIs and people of color, that both educates young (and older) people from all backgrounds and prides itself on its diversity, and its explicit commitment to social justice. This resonated with Matt, and does with me. I later met President Charles Middleton though the sponsorship that Matt’s mother and I do of the annual Matthew Freeman Lecture in Social Justice (see, most recently, Matthew Freeman Lecture and Awards, 2013, April 26, 2013), and later when he hosted my group of American Council on Education fellows at the university. Dr. Middleton calls Roosevelt the “most diverse private university in the Midwest”, and sitting there as the graduates cross the stage it is not hard to believe. Virtually every race and ethnicity was represented by the graduating students, many obviously first-generation Americans, and the pride in their faces was unmistakable.
In her speech, Ms. Smith spoke about coming to Roosevelt from an all-white, middle-class, suburb, in large part to play tennis – which she did. She also, however, learned about diversity, and met fellow students from all races, religions, ethnicities, and socioeconomic groups, and made them her friends. She talked about a concept that she had never heard of before but was omnipresent at Roosevelt, social justice, which she says will guide the rest of her life. Ms. Williams’ presence on the stage, as 85,000th graduate, may seem like a quirk, but she also is “typical” of Roosevelt; an African-American woman who received her bachelor’s in education there and now her Master’s, and will be teaching second grade in Chicago, before, she plans, to get her doctorate. Wow.

President Middleton, in his closing address, asked several groups to stand. They included the international students, who had to add learning English in addition to their studies, and the families, friends and other supporters who jammed the Auditorium. Most impressive, to me, however, was when he asked all the graduates who were the first members of their families to get a degree at their level to stand. Some were getting doctorates and master’s degrees, but the large majority of the graduates were receiving bachelors. Two-thirds of the graduates stood, to rousing cheers.

There are plenty of colleges that offer the opportunity for students from working-class and poorer backgrounds to get an education, for first-generation students to learn. They include the our community colleges (I still remember a talk at the 2008 ACE Conference by the president of LaGuardia College in NYC, where she said -- as I remember it -- “there are two kinds of colleges; those that try to select the students who will be the best fit at their institutions, and community colleges, that welcome students”), and our state universities. And some are private schools, like Roosevelt. And others may have the explicit commitment to social justice that Roosevelt does.

But I am proud to be associated with one that so overtly and clearly demonstrates it.