Month: April 2013

The Last Sparkle of Humanity

Humanity is an ocean…

The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest marathon; always held on Patriots’ Day, the third Monday in April. Each year, it draws in 20,000 hungry runners and 50,000 of their closest friends and family, who crowd the sidelines and scream and cheer and hold up their signs and are almost as relentless as the runners themselves. And this year, just before 3:00 pm, it was bombed.

Close to the finish line, two bombs went off, ultimately killing three and maiming close to 200 more bystanders. Throughout the day, 5 more undetonated bombs were discovered, which consisted of pressure cookers and nails. As of right now, no suspects have been named and no one is in custody.

I could literally go on all day about how utterly sick this is. To even gather my words enough to write this was a challenge in itself because, as all other Americans are feeling at this exact moment, I am infuriated, wounded, and let down.

On the one hand, I want to shake my finger at the human race. Regardless of whether this was an outside terrorist attack by an extremist group or an attack, because that’s still what it is, by one of our own, I want to say look what you did. Look what has been created. I want them to see this as a wake-up call, for it all to mean something, for us to say, look at the violence that is impeding our world. 

“Maybe this is what the Mayans predicted, not an asteroid or a solar flare, but the end of what we are. We no longer cherish life, or the other people, or even the earth or the animals or the resources put on it. War, genocide, abuse, senseless mass murder, animal cruelty, gluttony, greed, waste, and lust. Look around you, the end of the world is already here.”

And you know what? Maybe this is true. Maybe the extreme violence that no longer lurks in far-off battlefields, that now has infiltrated our schools, movie theaters, and sporting events, is the true mark of the end of an era; an era in which we believed we were safe when we left our homes in the morning, an era in which we, as Americans, believed we lived in a healthy, safe nation. 

However, as easy as it would be to throw in the towel and say it’s all downhill from herethere is a tiny part of me that believes otherwise. I am so utterly angry at all of this and my brain is so muddled that I can barely even spot that sparkle of hope. However, it’s there. Actually, it’s right here. 

Image

Now let me make this image a little more clear– this photograph was taken after the bombing. These people, as you can see, are still running. Actually, they are marathoners– running an extra mile and a half to Mass General Hospital to give blood to the victims. These people just ran twenty six miles and their own sparkle inside is telling them, “Keep going.”

All over the place, average people with average lives and average jobs didn’t leave the scene, they went back. They ran towards the fire and the cries and the blood to save those who hadn’t been so lucky. They risked their own lives for people they would never know. This is hope. This is humanity. This is what we stand for; not the evil that floods the headlines and sometimes seems the be the only thing left.

All around us, all over the world, these good people run wild. You will never read all of their names in newspapers and they will never receive big gold medals and no one will ever pat them on the back. Some of them will save lives, while others will give a free loaf of bread or even just let someone cross the street because it’s raining out. These strange people are absolutely everywhere. And they absolutely outnumber those who live to cause pain. 

“Good will always prevail over evil. Every time. Remember that.” 

When awful acts of terror such as this occur, our first instinct is to say humanity is fuckedWhich it very well may be. But I have a pretty good feeling that these good people, who hide on every corner, aren’t ready to throw in the towel quite yet either.

…If a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. 

The City of Brotherly Love… and War

Philadelphia is an interesting city, to the say the least, in the fact that besides being the birthplace of America, it also remains a hub of activity and rebirth in the country.

Thankfully, this is a point that remains true as it is the center of the Northeast Regional Honors Conference this weekend, where Honors students from all over the country gather to do a whole mess of things. Mostly, we discuss ideas for our Honors programs, we discuss academic ideas, we talk about life and we run amok around this city, and whatever other cities in the past and coming years that we get the opportunity to be sent of, luckily free of charge for some of us thanks to our generous universities.

What’s really cool about Philly is that it’s a combination of Old City, where our former presidents gathered to assemble this country (whether or not they would be satisfied with the results now is not applicable) and this paired with the People, who today, as a main city in the Northeast, are innovative, not afraid to be themselves, and not afraid of anything, really.

Tonight, this worked against Dr. Lucy Kerman, Keynote Speaker for the NCHC Conference and Vice Provost for University Partnerships at Drexel University. I really hate to put words in her mouth here without too many direct quotes, but I’m going to try to paraphrase her presentation the best I can for argument’s sake and quote where possible. (Audio will be posted when it becomes available).

According to Kerman, universities are not civilly active enough, in part at the fault of their students, their customers, really. It is because of these students that residents in low-income housing are forced to deal with their childlike shenanigans because these “middle class white kids” “stay up till 3:00 am having parties and being loud and drinking” and they live in “converted family homes that now illegally house six white middle-class students.” In part, it is to the fault of these students that crimes occur in the first place because “they walk home at 2:00 am with beers and their iPhones.”

Mad? Oh yeah. Us too. Keep in mind as well this isn’t your 95-year-old neighbor complaining about those damn loud kids interrupting her sleep at 8:00 pm. This is a Vice Provost at a 122-year-old University speaking who oversees about 22,000 students.

Now, let me move onto her basic point, unfortunately hidden behind a singularly faceted utopian “solution” to a problem with multifaceted causes; that universities need to funnel their money back into the community by sending students out to use their skills to help by sending them in to design storefronts, employ low-income residents with “no skills” (good luck with that one), make sure that playgrounds are safe, and improve drainage. Not too shabby, right? Especially considering Drexel, who formed this “universal” model, also received a ten million dollar grant to implement this. Must be nice.

Unfortunately, putting every student into a single pool where all of our mommies and daddies can shell out $57,000 to $60,000 each year (the range of tuition at Drexel University including education, room and board, and meal plans) is probably not the best idea. In reality, who is at fault for students being thrown out into on-campus housing where they “damage” the community? Is it, as Kerman stated, “the investors who buy the housing and charge low prices to attract students” to make a profit or is it because university housing can literally be double what students will pay to live off-campus?

We’re not choosing off-campus housing because we enjoy irritating residents or because we want to run around these particularly dangerous streets, especially in some parts of Philadelphia Kerman was particularly referencing, in a drunken stupor. It’s because we are broke as hell, because American universities have become businesses before places of education, where you either choose a university based on the scholarship you receive or you graduate, unemployed, with 200k in loans. Also, as an FYI, 135 nations out of 196 in the world employ free post secondary education to citizens. America, obviously, isn’t one of them.

An interesting point was also brought up by an administrator who mentioned that yes, 20 years ago, her argument could be a valid one, where parents did shell out money for spoiled college kids. Many of those kids didn’t work multiple jobs or pray that they would even be employed within one year of graduation or even get social security when they hit 65. These weren’t problems then. However, 48 years ago, we segregated schools based on race. Years go on. Things change. I would hope a Vice Provost could acknowledge that in a speech she is giving in 2013, where the financial crisis has cost America, as of now since 2008, 22 trillion dollars.

I’m also a little confused on what the separation is between a student resident in a community and an employed “adult” resident. Legally, what is the difference here? I would seriously love to know. What gives someone else more rights than me to live in a city? Because I’m 22 and you’ve seen National Lampoon’s Animal House too many times?

Also, it must be considered that those coming to universities with comments the most are obviously always going to be those with complaints. How many times has your neighbor said to you “Hey, thanks for not being annoying last night”? Instead, it is the negative that will always be brought to attention over the positive, a very simple logical idea that has been forgotten with a Vice Provost with a Ph.D..

I guess I missed the part where every student in America became a “middle class white kid” (her words, no but seriously) when instead, as I had observed, almost every college student I know works more than one part-time job, literally works 15 hour days when you factor in school, work, and extracurricular activities, and will still graduate with loans they will pay off until they’re 40…. When they will then attempt to send their own kids off to school. Maybe instead of trying to force broke-ass college students who sometimes commute upwards of two hours a day in total to and from college because they can’t afford room and board, highly paid school administrators pointing the finger, as our dear Kerman here, can redirect some of their own dollars to the problem.

As much as I was horrified during this discussion to see a Vice Provost so unbearably out of touch with one of the most obvious problems of American education (the rising costs of tuition and the inability of students to change this business-education model) I also breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a ballroom full of 20-year-olds who don’t even hold a college degree yet up in arms and willing to stand up and face someone who stands tall at her podium with her PowerPoint clicker and ask her how she can expect students to be civilly active when she depicts this “demonic caricature of students,” as Aziz Mama, Monmouth University senior, asked Kerman. They weren’t afraid to say This isn’t right, and you will not offend me and disregard me as another cash cow.

It is this attitude, I think, that envelops and defines Philadelphia; a city that will listen intently to the words you have to say, fight against you with all it has, and vow to be more different and more worthwhile than you ever imagined.