As campus empties out and tents come down, we at ENGAGE want to take a moment to reflect on what was an inspiring weekend.
We celebrated WESU‘s 75th Anniversary with a WESeminar that detailed the history of community radio at Wesleyan. WESU General Manager Ben Michael and University Archivist Leith Johnson shared fascinating stories from Howard Williams ’48 on how he inherited the station by chance, the move from Clark Hall to Broad Street, and much more. You can read about the anniversary at wesufm.org.
The Center for Prison Education also had a busy weekend, a lead-up to this fall’s five year anniversary of the first cohort of CPE students. During an inspiring WESeminar entitled “Advocacy after Incarceration,” a diverse group of presenters discussed the role of education during incarceration and the ‘iron ceiling’ which prevents individuals from moving on after incarceration. The Center for Prison Education also sponsored a cocktail hour later Saturday evening to celebrate five years of successful programming.
The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship teamed up with the Writing Program to present a WESeminar featuring Shining Hope for Communities founders Kennedy Odede ’12 and Jessica Posner Odede ’09 discussing their new writing project. The talk not only introduced the subject matter for the book, which Jessica described as “a love story between the two of us, and a love story between Kennedy and his community,” but also touched upon the power of reading and writing, and the responsibility of survival.
During Wesleyan’s 182nd Commencement, there was no shortage of civic engagement related speeches. Manon Lefevre’s Senior Class Welcome highlighted student activism on campus, stating, “When the class of 2014 has met injustice, we have taken meaningful action: combatting sexual assault on campus, changing our food system and campus landscape, standing up for our workers, marching for need blind, sleeping on Wall Street, demanding divestment, supporting the rights of trans* students, and rallying behind African American Studies.” Lefevre went on to encourage her fellow graduates to “ask the right questions” in order to keep challenging the status quo and fighting injustice beyond Wesleyan.
President Michael Roth’s speech focused on the access to and privilege of higher education, particularly important as discussions focusing on college readiness come to a head across the nation. Alluding to issues of access even in the Middlesex area, Roth commented, “Not far beyond the borders of this campus, education of the most basic kind is still denied to our citizens. In our country, education is less and less a vehicle for social mobility and more and more a vehicle for cementing social privilege.” As our students engage in the Center for Prison Education, tutoring, and after school programs, it is essential that we acknowledge that there is still so much work to be done in order to improve access to high-quality education, and President Roth’s speech was a timely reminder for all of us.
Ted Shaw ’76 continued the theme of civic engagement and struggle in his commencement address. This commencement marked 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded an honorary degree and delivered the baccalaureate sermon to the Wesleyan Class of 1964, and the theme of Dr. King’s life was woven throughout Mr. Shaw’s remarks. As he wound down his speech, he urged the graduating class not to “wait for the generation ahead of you to pass the baton.” Rather, we must remember that “the challenges presented by environmental sustainability, global warming, population growth, income and wealth inequality, racial and gender injustice, misogyny and child abuse, religious intolerance and ethnic hatred, war, totalitarianism and political oppression, and every other problem stemming from the human condition, are waiting for you. Take the baton. You won’t solve them all, but make a dent. What better do you have to do with your lives than try?”
This Reunion & Commencement Weekend provided an opportunity to celebrate the gains we have made in civic engagement both at Wesleyan and in the wider world, but it reminded us that we as a community must not become complacent. We must focus on civic engagement now more than ever if we hope to change our communities. Let us take time to look back on what we have done with our time at Wesleyan, and let us look forward to the time ahead of us. As Ted Shaw asked commencement attendees on Sunday, let’s challenge every single member of the Wesleyan community to ask themselves the same question: “What will you do with and in your time?”