Monday, April 11, 2016

Mann Up!

“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

                                                                        -Horace Mann

Just returned from the Bay Area Antioch College Alum party. Walked in to a sea of white hair and wondered who all these people were until it hit me—oh, yeah, they’re my classmates! Always sobering to look in the mirror of my peer group and realize how damn old we are! But hey, we could still do the folk dances we used to do back in Red Square in Yellow Springs, Ohio and boogie down to a few tunes at the end of the party that we used to dance to in the 60’s and 70’s.

But more important were the talks and conversation. The given wisdom back in those times is that all our youthful idealism would harden and crust over when we entered the “real world,” that we would sell out and become part of the Establishment and end up voting Republican. Well, it’s true we bought houses and had jobs and raised children, but virtually every Antioch alum I’m in touch with—and the many more I read about— is still concerned about social justice and mostly doing good work to keep trying to change the world for the better. And I felt that again at this gathering. 

In the 70’s, telling people you went to Antioch was a calling card of coolness. It was THE place to be in the counterculture I moved in. The only thing cooler than being at Antioch was dropping out of Antioch.

Then Reagan was elected in the 80’s, the country moved to the right, my generation was dealing with mortgages and mentioning you went to Antioch was liable to draw the reaction, “Oh you mean that hippy school where you never had to write papers or study for tests and got physical science credit for winetasting in France, PE credit for canoeing, experiential credit for hitchhiking and camping around California.” (All of which was true for me.) So I’d shrug it off with a semi-apologetic “Yeah” until I went to this reunion. There Stephen Jay Gould, the renowned scientist and Antioch alum, was being honored and I met alums from the 30’s to the 80’s. From the Wobblies to the Communists to the beatniks to the hippies and beyond, each decade had a different flavor, but all were united in the common injunction that Horace Mann, the first Antioch President back in 1850, bequeathed to us. I left that reunion damn proud that I was an Antiochian.

Then in 2007, a terribly difficult time in my life when my father was dying, my radical school was seeming to take a turn to the conservative, Bush was still damaging the world, I got the news that Antioch College was going to close. Devastating. But lo and behold, the planned alumni reunion was held and instead of sitting around and moping, the alums began a grassroots initiative to save the college and take matters into their own hands. And they did! That’s my alma mater, people! The new Antioch has now graduated its first class, has applied for accreditation and is slowly building back to a sustainable and dynamic learning institution. With Horace Mann's statue and quote still there on the lawn in front of the Main Building.

At Saturday’s event, there were four featured alum speakers. The first was Loni Hancock, a California State Senator who has worked tirelessly for social reform in all sorts of needed areas—prison reform, education and recently, banning the exporting of coal from the Oakland ports. Next came Gabriel Metcalf, a city planner and one of the founders of City Car Share. Next John Knox, Executive Director of Earth Island Institute dedicated to the link between environmentalism and social justice. The last was Idris Ackamoor, a multi-instrumentalist Sun Ra-type musician performing a piece evoking the Black Lives Matter movement. Good people doing good work who also know how to have a good time.

For such a small school, we have some impressive alum credentials—Coretta Scott King,  whose husband Martin spoke at one of the graduations, Eleanor Holmes Norton, a notable lawyer also in Congress,  scientist Stephen Jay Gould, children’s author Louis Sachar (he wrote Holes), Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone fame, Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame, Jorma Kaukonen from the Jefferson Airplane, world famous Orff Schulwerk teacher Doug Goodkin (ha ha!!) and so on. But more important is the high percentage of Antioch alums out of the media spotlight quietly continuing the work to better the world from their corner of expertise and passion. Still working to win some victory, no matter the size, for humankind. Horace Mann's legacy lives on.

I say it plainly: I am proud to be an Antiochian!

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