Friday, May 13, 2011

‘Til Death Do Us Part

John N. Gardner

This blog is written at the end of the first day of a two day reunion I am having with two of my best friends from college. I met both 50 years ago this fall when I was an entering freshman. One of these two has a terminal illness. The other has had a life threatening illness and is doing much better than the aforementioned friend. I love these two guys “’till death do us part”. We decided recently that given the deteriorating prognosis for one of these guys that the three of us ought to get together soon while we still could. This experience is instructive

So, what are the lessons? Some are:

1. The college experience that I and other middle class American late adolescents in the last two quarters of the 20th century had was powerful and of lifelong influence.
2. It was life transforming.
3. The most powerful influences in it were other students.
4. It fostered the establishment of lifelong relationships.
5. Those relationships are as important as any in our lives.
6. They matter more than the deals we have cut and the money we have made.
7. They are priceless.
8. I am really bonded to these guys, and some women of the same time period too. 
9. For us it is truly “’til death do us part”
10. The college experience in America is now drastically different for the overwhelming majority of college students who do not go to one place and stay four years, who do not live on campus, who do not become active alumni, who do not stay in touch, and who do not come back for homecoming and other reunions.
11. I would like to say that experience is not better or worse, just different from my own.
12. But in my most honest moments I know I was privileged to have been able to experience college in a way that would make possible these bonds that last til death do us part. And I know that as the American middle class shrinks, and the kind of college experience I had becomes less and less possible for more and more students, I really do believe what they will receive instead is truly inferior.
13. I am saddened by this.
14. So I have to do as much as I can in my own professional work time remaining to insure that the normative college experience (e.g. for commuting, transfer students) is still as powerful and life transforming as we higher education social engineering change agents can make it.
15. My life is greatly richer, deeper, better, because I have had these relationships til death do us part.
16. I am so thankful for them, and for all the circumstances, both familial and cultural, that made these experiences possible for me. In truth, these advantages were accidents of fate, but I certainly made the most of them.

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