On the northern end of Manhattan, up on a hill overlooking Harlem, sits the City College of New York.
It has been there since 1847. In those days, the days when college was mostly for the moneyed sons of the gentry, City college was not only new but radical.
It was opened under the name the ‘Free Academy”… because it was free. As in no tuition. It was set up in contrast, even opposition to, its nearly next door neighbor Columbia. Free college? huh.
While it was for some time free it was not always “open”. In 1969 the few black students on campus raised a ruckus over the institutions lack of opportunity and support for black students/applicants. Consequentially the school decided to not only open up a little more, but open up all the way, allowing any graduate of NY public schools automatic admission.
Sadly such things could not last. By the 80’s not only was admission being charged but remedial classes were no longer offered. What was once a radical open door school has now, at least on the surface, become just a college like any other.
Except it is in New York. New York is not like any other.
Once upon a time Ben Franklin convinced Pope Pius VI to appoint John Carroll, a Jesuit, as the head of the Catholic Church in the brand new United States of America. Jesuits like to build schools. In 1789 John Carroll founded Georgetown.
A few years later Georgetown found itself sitting on the border of north and south with half its student body joining one army, and half the other. Once the guns stopped firing the school adopted both blue and grey as their official colors.
How bipartisan of them.
This post civil war period became known as Georgetown’s second founding as the new president, Patrick Healy, expanded the school and more or less made it the elite institution it is today.
Interesting guy this Healy.
Healy’s dad was an Irish guy who owned a plantation in Macon Georgia, including a biracial slave named Mary Eliza. These two lived as common law husband and wife and had three kids. Legally, those kids were slaves, including Patrick.
Mr. Healy Sr. not considering his kids slaves, or even black for that matter, sent the kids up north for good catholic schooling free from the legal issues in the South. Patrick eventually became a Jesuit and earned a PhD in Belgium. He was in Belgium because being mixed race right before the civil war was not exactly fun or conducive to continued education in America.
Upon his return to the States Healy led Georgetown into the 20th century and was hailed as a fine Catholic son of Ireland. Sort of.
History is never a straight line.
Never a straight line as demonstrated by Georgetown alumni Bill Clinton’s wandering path to influence and power, and Alan Iverson’s drive to the basket and later a drive to multiple court rooms.
But we shouldn’t only look at Clinton and Iverson, we could also look at Justice Scalia, Bradley Cooper, or any of the other 17,000 who attend the school yearly.
Speaking of those 17,ooo students, they are called “Hoyas”. What exactly that is, is debatable. These (below) are Hoyas:
Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutombo were also Hoyas.
Yes it sounds strange to me too but we will get to that later.
The first thing you notice when visiting the College Park campus just outside D.C. is the students. a lot of students. Almost 40,000 students. Let me say that again FORTY THOUSAND!
That is a lot of kids, which is not even counting the number of faculty and staff required to educate that many kids. This means that UMD is big enough to swallow most Midwestern cities. It is absolutely the definition of a state flagship university.
They offer 100 undergraduate majors. 100!
When the average American, or human for that matter, imagines American colleges, odds are they are picturing one of two types; the elitist ivy league, or the University of Maryland.
It has a row of fraternity and sorority houses a mile long (figuratively), a football stadium bigger than the Colosseum, and a bazillion kids wandering around in tank tops and slippers.
The school can boast that it employs multiple Nobel laureates as faculty and the average incoming freshman GPA is 4.1.
Such statistics befuddle me just a little. 4.1 is better than a perfect 4.0, and there are 40,000 students at UMD. My high school self is feeling quite inadequate in comparison to the number of above perfect students in this equation.
And then I see this.
The terrapin mascot named Testudo sitting on a concrete perch in front of the library. My natural Philadelphia self assumed Testudo was surrounded by regular refuse but upon closer inspection I saw that these were offerings. Coffee, Red Bull, Coke, all offerings to the Gods of finals week. I assume they are left in hopes that a holy turtle will bless these above perfect students’ all night cram sessions.
The term HBCU stands for Historically Black College and University. Of all the schools that fall under this umbrella, Cheyney is arguably the most “historical”.
They themselves make that argument, but they arent arguing with me. I’m on their team.
Cheyney was founded in 1837. Lets look at 1837 just a little bit.
1837 is the year Queen Victoria assumed the throne in England. This is the same year Michigan became a state. The civil war was still decades away and Black people were not only not admitted to colleges… they were mostly held as slaves.
Then here comes Cheyney.
It was opened in Philadelphia as the African Institute but now sits on 275 quiet acres in Chester County, PA.
I have had people ask me why there are such things as “black colleges” these days. We can’t have white colleges. It is a double standard.
When Cheyney was founded there were such things as white colleges. They were officially called “every college in America”. And just so you know, all these white colleges eventually let black people in… and all these black colleges today, have ALWAYS let white people in.
Walking around I got no sense of cozy study nooks with wood paneling and crackling fires. Nor did I suspect you would find anywhere a tweed wearing, pipe smoking professor telling tales of when he rode with Lighthorse Harry.
Which may be for the best.
No, this is a state research university. This means that what you will find is a strong science program some industrial/severe architecture, and a football team… and almost 30,000 classmates.
So perhaps what this place lacks in charm, it makes up for in honesty. No looking down its nose at you due to your lack of last name. No, its way too cold here for that.
But I do suppose all of this does have some perks.
I hear the train goes there from the city, but not my city. I had to fly on a little two propeller plane into Albany then drive another hour north. Spring doesn’t hit upstate NY till sometime after it is summer everywhere else, so as I drove through woods and resort towns all I saw was boarded up windows and stacks of canoes with tarps pulled snugly over. Then after crossing a small bridge, winding along a manicured little path, I was at the Sagamore.
The hotel opened in 1883 as a place where robber baron types could vacation in each other’s company. I’m no robber baron but after three days at the Sagamore I considered becoming one.
Mine were not the fanciest of furnishings but the staff treated me as if I was in fact somebody. They were a little like those crazy people who work at Trader Joe’s. They work at a grocery store yet appear to like their jobs, which in turn makes me like to shop there. I liked staying at the Sagamore, even if it did snow in April.
I was there with an organization that puts potential science students in contact with science schools. I represent a science school. This means I eat at fancy dinners with youngsters and while looking down my nose say “So, young chap, what do yoooooou want to do with your liiiife?” To which the say “IDK maybe like, research and stuff? What-evs.”
At one point I found myself at a black tie ball listening to a live band, sitting at a table with five students, all of which were looking at their phones, one wearing headphones.
Yet this was not cause to begin a rant on the loss of hope for tomorrow but rather a lesson to the adult in the room to relax a little. These aren’t bums from the street, crooks and hoods from the corner, but straight A students. These were kids who know a thing or two about working in a lab and smart stuff like neuroscience and microbiology. But they are still kids.
Its OK to be a kid.
The Sagamore sits right on Lake George. Back in 1920 they hosted boat races and according to the old photos lining the walls, all sorts of festive occasions to which one would wear a skimmer hat and knickerbocker pants.
I wore neither of those things but simply sat in the Adirondack chairs and asked the staff to keep me well supplied with pitchers of hot water so I could sip mate while doing important work. Like blogging.
As a youth, and even now, I have had no desire to join the Navy. This is and was because of cowardice.
My logic has always gone something along the lines of: in the event that someone is trying to kill me, what branch of the military would provide me the best ability to run away? In an airplane one plummets hundreds of feet toward the ground, but then there are parachutes. In the event that it does not open, at least you got to fly in a plane, or perhaps even sail through the air sans-plane right before the end. Very Exciting.
In the Army, if bullets start flying I can always run, run, and then run some more. Maybe I could dig a hole and hide in it, or even climb a tree. It is amazing how effective hiding in a tree can be. If I am running, you must shoot me in a vital organ, assuming I can live through the destruction of an appendage other than my head, and in comparison to an airplane or a battleship, I am a very small target.
Now consider I was on a ship. An evil doer would not even have to shoot me and I will still likely die. They could miss me by 100 yards, which would still hit the ship, which would then sink, leaving me to tread water in the middle of the ocean till I eventually tire and then sink 500 feet down to my kelpy grave. Lets not even think about a submarine.
Three minutes spent on the Naval Academy’s campus was almost enough to change my mind completely.
The bricks of the barracks and columns lining the classrooms seem mortared with bravery and nobility. Walking on the grass or past the flags you breath history into your lungs where it is photosynthesized into patriotic adventure seeking energy.
I almost wanted to go back to being seventeen so I could apply.
Which would have been useless because they never would have let me in; cuz they have standards. High standards like masts on frigates or the bow of battleship.
Walking the campus even one so deeply civilian as myself grew a desire to salute everything I saw. Sincere salutes, no sarcasm. At its founding in 1845 there was already established a tradition and history that inspired instant prestige.
That prestige is just as tangible here as at Harvard but with maybe even a touch more pride.
It is the sort of deep seated pride that can’t be argued with. The sort that needs no recognition from others, satisfied in itself. The sort of pride that comes from this one certain type of relic in the museum. Not the uniforms of Admirals long passed, or the guns fired in battles long ago, but relics like the large book smeared in blood. Blood that came from Commander Arthur Anders, who in 1937 found his ship under attack. He was wounded such that he was bleeding profusely, unable to speak, yet he stayed at his post and wrote out his orders by hand. Those blood smeared orders are housed at the academy.
That’s the kind of pride this place is built to build.
His facebook feed is mostly pictures of his daughter and wife.
I met him in church.
His conversation consists of mostly… well… mostly just short replies to whatever you just said. He laughs easily enough, makes jokes of his own, maybe even a little story, but they are always short. Lots of pauses. He comes off kind of quiet. Yeah, thats right, quiet.
When I first heard about what he does with his off hours I asked, “wait. So you are the lead singer in a band?”
He replied, “Well, not really. Its more like screaming.”
He doesn’t just do the screaming, he writes all the songs as well.
But like I said we met in church. He taught Sunday School to a bunch of teenage boys. Reading sctiptures, giving instruction on life choices, using woodworking tools. Usual stuff.
Come pinewood derby time there was Chris, sandpaper and a block of wood in hand. The kids were just making cars, they had no idea what they had in this teacher. They still don’t. He never really told them. They probably wouldn’t have appreciated, or believed him had he attempted to brag, but he never did.
What those boys had wasn’t a rock star, though he should be, but a designer. He designs and builds all those crazy displays you see in that big “hip” store that is in all the malls.
That’s his day job.
Sometimes he paints too. I paint a little myself but you can’t walk into a national retail chain and buy a print of anything I have done. You can do that with his work.
But wait, there’s more.He also makes purses.
No really he does. Really good purses. Bags, briefcases, and all sorts of leather stuff. Hand crafted, custom designed, get featured in international magazine kind of purses.
Don’t even get me started on the backpack he made out of a recycled Carhart jacket.I spend a lot of time on the internet. I’m getting a little bit older and a lotta bit jaded. Maybe jaded is a bit too strong, but definately skeptical. I know that no one’s life is as good as it looks on Facebook, mine included. I generally assume that everyhing, or everyone, I see online is about half as successful as they appear, about a third as talented, and no where near as cool. Its the kind of skepticism that makes you nervous when you hear your friend’s band has a gig coming up. You want it to be good but errr… most of us just aren’t that talented, or all that cool. Cool enough, sure, but “enough” isn’t enough for a rock star.
There is a movie about the Maine Line. Its called the Philadelphia story, but really, its the Maine Line. Villanova is the Main Line.
I’ve driven through. It gets it’s name from the rail line that once took old money from their city homes to their country, now suburban, ones. I’ve been to the schools, gawked at the homes, sat at a lot of red lights. I would rather ride the maine line than drive to it.
Academics are strong, basketball is strong, area ties-even stronger. I know a few grads, a few current administrators, all top notch. But as I was walking through the football stadium, being nosey watching lacrosse practice, I looked up on the football wall of fame.