For the last almost eleven years I have worked at Merrill College. I am the primary maintenance worker for the housing areas. I usually work in the dorms, where I have met, or at least encountered, most of my fellow graduates. I am known as, “Bill, the maintenance guy.” It’s my job is to fix things and to help where I can. What most of my fellow graduates probably don’t know is that I was a student at Merrill. I came here as a first year, in the fall of 1969. I got my degree in Politics as a forty-sixth year last summer.
I believe that my long experience at Merrill gives me a unique perspective on our college. What I want to focus on is the role that social change has played at Merrill, from when I arrived, until today.
I came to Merrill during an era of tremendous social and political upheaval. Throughout the country, traditional institutions, practices, and relationships were being challenged. The Civil Rights movement was challenging the traditions of racism and political disenfranchisement that had defined the experience of Black Americans and others for centuries. The anti-war movement sought to bring an end to the war in Viet Nam. In New York City the Stonewall riots marked the beginning of the gay liberation movement, and its quest to have its members social and political rights recognized. Farmworkers were organizing in order to promote economic justice. The women’s movement challenged women’s traditional and legal status as second class citizens. All of these things infused the atmosphere at Merrill College and informed the concerns of the Merrill community.
One of the ways those issues were addressed at Merrill was through the core course. The core course, which is taken by all first year Merrill students, is designed to promote a sense of community, and to give the students a shared academic experience.
That made the theme of Merrill and the focus of the core course, “Social Change in the Third World”, particularly apt. The shared academic focus at Merrill was designed to acquaint and involve members of the Merrill community with diverse peoples and cultures around the world: to help us to understand and to be part of those changes; to involve us in the world around us. And that, of course, was directly related to the transformations taking place here at home.
A concern for diverse groups and involvement in the world has been a fundamental part of the Merrill experience since its earliest days. Obviously, the world has changed a lot since I first came to Merrill. The term, “Third World”, in itself reflects one of the most significant political realities of that era—the Cold War struggles between the capitalist nations of the First World, and the communist bloc countries of the Second World.
Since then the world has changed and Merrill has changed with it. The Cold War is over. And in the core course the emphasis on the Third World has been replaced with a focus on Cultural Identities and Global Consciousness. How do diverse peoples live in a world that is increasingly connected and interdependent? The course reflects the new issues we face today— climate change, globalization, increasing income inequality, as well as the ones we left you. Actually, I guess we left you with all of this mess. Sorry it isn’t better.
But you have gotten some things here at Merrill what will help you to deal with the mess. I know, because I got them too. A solid education. And life long friends. Remember, you are not alone.
Regarding that education, I would like to share with you something I learned from one of my Merrill mentors, Jack Schaar. I was taking a seminar and we had collectively mis-read an essay. We had not given the author his due. Professor Schaar told us that there are lots of ways to be wrong. One is to believe something is true, when it is not. Another is to not believe something is true, when it is. He said the University is great at teaching you how to think critically, to test the validity of what you are looking at. It’s not as good at teaching you to see truths that you are not looking for. That’s where your friends can help. They give you the experience of validity that is granted, and doesn’t have to be proven. They make you more open. So I suggest you try to think critically, but also generously, as you go out in the world. Thank you.