September 19, 2006

Reason for hope

During the first four weeks of the semester, I ask my first year students to do all kinds of things outside of class time – an overnight retreat, lectures and workshops, and a play downtown. When I found out that Snowstorm University, the big college next to us, was bringing in Famous Woman Who Discovered that Chimpanzees Use Tools, I told them I would see if I could get us tickets, but that I had already taken up so many of their evenings that I was not making the lecture mandatory. They could come if they wanted. It was completely up to them.

Out of 60 students, all but two signed up for the lecture. The only two who did not come were two who had to work that night.

When I met my students outside their residence hall yesterday evening so that we could walk over to the lecture together, leaving 45 minutes ahead of time so that we could get good seats, some of the students were so excited about seeing Famous Chimpanzee Activist that they could not stand still. "I can't believe we are going to see her in person," one woman said, bouncing up and down as she talked. "She has been my hero all my life."

As we walked from Small Green Campus over to the much bigger campus of Snowstorm University, my students were chattering excitedly and moving so fast I had to practically run to keep up. One student demonstrated some Irish step dancing moves on the concrete steps we had to ascend, and many other students followed suit, dancing sideways up to the top. Some students had gone over even earlier, to wait in line before the doors opened and get the best seats, and they were in constant cell phone contact with the group of us who were walking over now.

We were so early that the big auditorium was still almost empty when we arrived. The first rows were reserved for people more important than us, but we filled in the whole area right behind the reserved section. All around me I could hear students exchanging what information they knew about Chimpanzee Expert: what books they'd read, what television programs they'd seen, and what impact she had had on their lives, bringing many of them to the field of wildlife biology. As we talked, the auditorium around us gradually filled with hundreds of Snowstorm University students.

When Woman Who Lived Near Chimpanzees approached the podium, she could not speak for several minutes because the applause from the first year students went on for so long. When she did speak, she was intelligent, articulate, and inspiring. Her facts were sometimes depressing, but she ended on a note of hope.

I too was thrilled to see Chimpanzee Expert, but the most exciting part of the evening for me was watching the attitudes of my students, who all jumped at the chance to attend the lecture, who sat forward in their seats listening to every word she said, and who afterwards filled the night air with talk of ecology and habitat destruction and grassroots activism. As we walked back to our own campus, following paths splashed with light from the windows of buildings, I could feel their energy rushing all around me, as they talked and danced and bounced their way back to their residence hall. Reason for hope.

23 comments:

turtlebella said...

One of the most wonderful things about working on college/university campuses- seeing the energy, hope, idealism of a new set of people. When our hope and energy begins to flag they are there to renew it and spur us old fogies along. Thanks for a great story, jo(e)!

Ianqui said...

Oh, I remember when Chimpanzee Activist came to speak at my undergrad college. I too was SO excited! And she really is a wonderful speaker, so I'm not surprised their enthusiasm lasted long after the talk.

Hilaire said...

What great story, jo(e) - I could feel your students' excitement. I love that being around that feeling; it's one of the best ones there is. I remember taking my students to a relevant symphony and just feeling *high* over them - their excitement, their enthusiasm, their fancy-dress-up clothes...

Autumn said...

That's wonderful. I sometimes forget, not being constantly surrounded by that kind of enthusiasum that it's exactly *that* that makes this world a better place. We just need to create more places outside of school where people can feed that passion - so it doesn't die once we leave.

Suzanne said...

Thanks for sharing a hopeful story, jo(e). So many stories about college kids concern their cluelessness or self-absorption. It's really encouraging to hear instead about their enthusiasm and social conscience.

Lauren said...

This story makes me feel a little better about the next generation. Sometimes it seems that passion just isn't cool.

YourFireAnt said...

Yes. That wonderful energy. In my yoga class, there is a group of students from Small Green College who fill the air in the room with sparkly motes of za-zazzle-zat when they are there. I always feel extra charged when I've had a class with them. How is it that we lose that as they years pass. Or some of it. Andone way to get it back is a periodic infusion via classroom, subway, cafe, or poetry reading.

A good class project might be to pair up [our Newbie Lady Chancellor at Snowstorm U. likes to say "partner" as a verb.] these Teenage Energy Dynamos with Women [or Men]of a Certain Age for weekly oomph sessions, with both parties giving and receiving fruits of wisdom, exuberance, experience, boldness, heedless leaps of faith, and good ol' fashioned joie-de-vivre. 6 hours Experience Credit, counts toward electives.

FA

Dr.K said...

Just now, about 2 minutes ago, I got out of a conference with a student (in the Writing Center) who has to prepare a speech for her Speech class. She loves frogs and toads--is actually passionate about frogs and toads--and wanted to do her speech on that, but part of her problem was that the assignment stipulated that she must show during her speech how her topic is relevant to her audience. She was afraid that frogs just don't relate. I mentioned that the populations of amphibians around the world are declining, and that scientists are trying to figure out why. I suggested that they suspect there might be trace pollutants involved, and her eyes lit up as she saw the point: What hurts frogs and toads might also hurt us. (It's a fairly basic concept to many of us, but young students need to start somewhere.) At that point she couldn't wait to leave and is off to the library to research her presentation. She initially held back on something she cared about because it didn't seem cool. This incident reinforces something I've realized long ago, that beneath the shallow and cynical facade of "hip" and "cool" that our students get saddled with by our society, there lie all sorts of genuine and interesting passions. Our students would really prefer to be themselves, and they do it if given half a chance.

sabreader said...

What a great story. I think about how easy it is to get burnt out and jaded. Yet it's the enthusiasm and idealism of students that really keeps me going sometimes. You can't help but maintain your optimism and love of learning in the face of it.

Kelly said...

I have long thought "Famous Woman Who Discovered that Chimpanzees Use Tools" should win the Nobel Peace Prize. She's worked quietly, but very effectively.

molly said...

The first thing my daughter did when she went away to college was become a vegetarian and join the green party. She still struggles with the vegetarianism (she really loves a good steak!) but the greens are here to stay. I think there's lots of reason for hope.

Yankee, Transferred said...

What a great opportunity, and a great reaction to it!

Lisa C. said...

I miss going to lectures. I am very jealous of you and your students! It sounds like a wonderful experience.

kathy a said...

chimpanzee expert came to my little college on the left coast when i was a freshman. i still remember her talk vividly! it was 30 years ago. she is amazing.

liz said...

So very cool!

Marie said...

What a wonderful story! Don't you love that energy? That passion? How cool that you organized it for them. Thanks for telling the story.

negativecapability said...

Is your department hiring a Romanticist anytime soon? (seriously, you have my dream job)

Bardiac said...

Wow!

She's a wonderful, inspiring speaker, and just an amazing presence. Your students are, indeed, fortunate to get the opportunity to see her in person.

kabbage said...

Jo(e), you are blessed. I, too, am blessed because I have the opportunity to read your words.

Thanks for the lift!

zelda1 said...

The dancing and bouncing and constant chatter, youthful energy. I'm so happy they have you to stir them to the good stuff, and that Chimpazee woman has been my hero for as long as I can remember. I remember Nova and those documentaries. Wow, I would dance to meet her too.

Silver Creek Mom said...

What a wounderful oppertunity for you kids. It's amazing the energy they get from this if only they could keep it later in life. Sadly I find it dwindiles away. BUT maybe it won't.

makes me smile.

Erin said...

Oooh, I really wanted to go to her lecture. When a co-worker told me she was speaking, I replied, "she's like a rockstar to nerds like me!"

:-)

ppolarbear said...

I would love t6 have the title rockstar to nerds.