John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Looking for Signs of Hopefulness

John Gardner
President

I can’t be the only one here at the end of the year who is looking for signs of hopefulness that might portend for next year. And I am given particular inspiration by what many of our students, who joined other not so ordinary citizens, have accomplished this year in the Occupy movement.  Shame on us for being so ready to write them off and for criticizing them for not being clear about what it is that they want. It has seemed pretty clear to me since the beginning: a society that pays more than rhetorical lip service to equality.

I have to admit it: I am a child of the sixties. My undergraduate college years were 1961-65 and we certainly weren’t protesting anything. Then I went to graduate school during which time I was drafted; then did a tour with the United States Air Force, and was honorably discharged as the decade was almost over—and was ending to tumultuous protests on hundreds of campuses around our country. These helped end the presidential administration of the man who greatly expanded the Vietnam War; and these demonstrations kept the country’s attention focused on this greatly mistaken undertaking until finally we withdrew (I am reminded of that this week when President Obama finally accomplished what he told us he would do: get all the troops out of Iraq).

In the first several years after I was a civilian again, I didn’t meet a protest that I didn’t want to be part of. I was “active” to understate it and won’t relate my full range of legal activities here. But they certainly gave me appreciation for what citizens can accomplish when they mobilize to call out against injustice.

It seems that for decades our students have been asleep. They have been so docile, most of them, putting up with anything our politicians, campus and corporate leaders wanted to dish out. But that has finally changed. And I find that hopeful.

In just a few short months they have forced to the country’s attention this whole subject of equality: the myth vs. the reality. We are all thinking now in terms of the one percent vs. the ninety-nine percent.

As an educator for whom my beloved higher education has always been more about the achievement of social justice than anything else, I am ending my year hopeful. I am hopeful that we are experiencing a powerful values clarification exercise, thanks to some of our students and other citizens. I am hopeful that this will galvanize citizens at all levels, including the current Administration, both of our national government and on our campuses.  I am hopeful that this will give new life to a sense of idealism that underlies the belief that all Americans are entitled to a realistic shot at achieving social and economic justice.

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