As I wrote a week and a half ago, my job at Western Washington University has me heavily involved with the annual grand ritual of opening the campus at the beginning of Fall Quarter. It is a massive undertaking for many of the staff on campus, and for me it involves working long hours for 12 straight days.
And yet, all the hard work is so deeply purposeful, and when the students start moving into the residence halls that one weekend every year, when you see this age-old tradition playing out, the belongings in boxes and the farewells exchanged by the students and their parents, you have this sense that you contributed to this momentous occasion, that your work helped make that experience as special as it was.
Well, it’s been a week and half since Dwight Clark (pictured here) moved on campus, one of the thousands of new WWU Freshmen, young people who have moved away from home for the first significant amount of time. We worked incredibly hard, all summer long, to make his arrival as welcoming and accommodating as can be, and then Dwight left a house party this past Saturday night and has not been seen or heard from since. As of this writing the police report absolutely no leads and are not able to determine if anything criminal happened.
Meanwhile, 3,000 miles east, at my alma mater, Rutgers University, another Freshman young man, Tyler Clementi, disappeared very early in Fall term, only his fate has been determined: he jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate posted a video of him on Facebook.
An odd thing happened when I was reading about Dwight Clark this morning. When I read that he was a very well-liked young man and that he was an Honors student in high school, a thought flashed through my mind very quickly, barely long enough for me to notice it. The thought was that somehow it’s sadder because he was so well thought of, so bright and with such a promising future ahead of him. Something bothered me tremendously about that thought, and so I momentarily discarded it, buried it away.
But then, as I read about the Rutgers student, how he too was well-liked, how he was a very bright and creative young man, especially gifted in music, a talent on the violin, the thought came back.
That I have these thoughts disturbs me, for they imply that the loss of some lives is sadder than the loss of some others, that some lives have more value than others. Even as I type this I feel uncomfortable with that view, I know that it isn’t really what I believe. I am a devout AnneFrankian who believes in the inherent goodness of all people, and I don’t care how pollyanna some might find that.
So, where does that come from? The only thing I can think of is that I’m as susceptible as anyone to the long-term effects of exposure to examples of human beings not acting on their inherent goodness. Whether it’s in the news, in the movies, or out in the street, hardly a day goes by without hearing about some repellent deed or another. It’s occasionally enough to make the most determined optimist despair.
I could write for hours on this well-worn topic, the question of whether people are good, evil, or both, but I am neither qualified or particularly interested.
What I will say is this: During all those weeks of preparation for the arrival of the student body each Fall, hundreds of people across campus work their asses off for ALL of the students who come to Western, not just the “good” students. While there might be programs in place to deal with students who cause trouble, ALL students are greeted here as having the potential to learn, grow, achieve, and contribute.
Try telling Western faculty and staff that they’re pollyanna!
Meanwhile, I mourn for Tyler and I hope that Dwight will somehow be found and can resume the new chapter of his life he had just started at Western.