My View from South Hill
Tagged as “Community”
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Last weekend my wife Amber and I held our first holiday party at Fountain Place, for faculty and staff families. Children and grandchildren of Ithaca College employees wandered into rooms set up for making holiday decorations and for smearing as much frosting on cookies (and themselves) as they could manage. Grown-ups and kids alike enjoyed baloney and PB&J sandwiches, pigs in blankets, milk, and juice boxes. I can’t be certain, but this could well be the first time peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have been on the menu at an official Fountain Place function. Perhaps we'll break them out again for the Trustees!
And why not? After all, the holidays belong to the young and to that youthful, joyous place we all have in our hearts. That is why it seemed cosmically right to launch our first-ever holiday season in Fountain Place with a party for children. Amber and I spent every free moment over the last week decorating the house and threading fishing line through foam cutouts of stars for the children to decorate.
Kids are really amazing. They're very perceptive about the world around them, and they don't mince words when things fail to go as planned. A number of parents told us they explained to their children that they would be going to a party at the home of the new president and his wife. The kids agreeably bundled into cars and made the trip to our home, which looked suitably impressive under a coat of fresh snow. Doubt began to set in only when several children looked around and asked their parents where the president was.
I shook hands with one solemn four-year-old who promptly turned to his parents and announced, "That’s not President Obama!" There was a buzz of confused agreement among other children in the room. Even among the pre-school set, the new man in the White House is a tough act to follow.
As with any worthwhile undertaking, creating this party involved the work of many. Facilities crews made the house festive by stringing lights in the trees and bushes outside, and opened up the interior space by moving furniture from the "party floor" to the upstairs. The Ithaca College Hillel board of directors donated a beautiful menorah that will forever grace future holiday parties at Fountain Place. Professor Katharyn Machan donned her costume as Zajal the Sugar Plum Fairy and, with her friend Lindy Cummings, entertained adults and enthralled the children. IC Bell People, a student group, rang in the spirit of the season. The party would not have been possible without sixteen student volunteers organized by Deb Mohlenhoff. The students donned Santa hats and helped the children find everything they needed for their cookie and decoration making.
I know this has been a difficult year on many fronts, for people here at Ithaca College and beyond. In the face of those struggles, the Fountain Place family holiday party illustrates what I hope will be the dominant theme of this holiday season: that the strength of our community will carry us through this or any other trial.
Happy holidays, everyone.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
I chatted recently with Mr. Kevin Lee, master bricklayer, as he repaired a brick wall adjoining Textor Hall. Mr. Lee was using recycled brick from a building that had been demolished somewhere else in the region. The brick had originally been made in a now-closed manufacturing plant in the nearby town of Horseheads. The distinctive HH emblem could be clearly seen on the side of each brick before it was laid.
I was especially interested in the periodic placement of bricks that were discolored and twisted. Mr. Lee said these bricks -- known as "clinkers" -- were not made that way on purpose, but had been put in the kiln at an odd angle or baked too long. Use of these bricks on Ithaca College walls creates a distinctive mosaic of texture and difference that I had noticed the first time I set foot on campus. I asked Mr. Lee if it was common to use these in constructing brick walls.
"I've laid brick around the country and in other parts of the world," he replied. "I have never seen these bricks used in construction. They are usually discarded."
I walked back to my office thinking about the use of such a variety of bricks as a parable on diversity at Ithaca College. Tolerance of diversity implies a willingness to use every brick as a way of making the fullest use of the complete range of available materials. Celebration of diversity implies a positive appreciation that the wall with clinkers is aesthetically superior to a wall composed solely of bricks that are even in color and smoothness. But the true embrace of diversity means getting away entirely from the concept of a "normal" brick. Before talking with Mr. Lee, I had assumed that the clinkers were an intentional expression of artistic sensibility. If anything, I believed, it must take greater artisanal skill to make a clinker than to make a smooth six-sided brick. In talking with Mr. Lee, I lost my uninformed innocence about clinkers -- will I ever look at these walls the same way again?
The phrase "all humans are made in God’s image" is one that many of us hear so early and so often in life that we become insensitive to how radical a proposition that is. Can we see in everyone we meet not just someone who merits our tolerance, not just someone who deserves our respect, but someone who is beautiful and uniquely perfect?
Which I suppose makes us a community of magnificent clinkers.