Author Archive for: ‘John Syme ’85’
Civic discourse is not always civil, but four North Carolina legislators showed it is possible in a panel discussion in the C. Shaw Smith 900 Room last Monday.
Student Government Association President Chris Ragsdale and Associate Professor of Political Science Susan Roberts set a friendly, welcoming tone for the Q&A session with the four, three of whom are alumni: Senator Daniel Clodfelter ’72 (D), Senator Fletcher Hartsell ’69 (R), Representative Grier Martin ’91 (D) and Senator Jeff Tarte (R) in discussing “The Changing State of North Carolina.”
Though clearly disagreeing with one another early and often on the topics that the student-generated questions brought up, the four kept civil tongues in their heads as they talked about Moral Mondays, voting rights, education budgets, grading the governor, gun control, same-sex marriage and tax reform. It is perhaps worth noting, in light of recent high dudgeon in Raleigh on these topics and others, that a campus police officer stood quietly in the back throughout….
Ten minutes before the soft opening of Summit Coffee’s new Davidson College location on Patterson Court today at 3 p.m., proprietor Tim Helfrich was busily attaching a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale handle onto a tap, the one right between the handles for People’s Porter and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Behind him, the kitchen was bustling and the pastry case was stocked. All around, staff members put finishing touches on surfaces, displays, inventory, espresso machines….
There will be something for everyone at the new campus location of the popular Main Street coffeehouse’n’watering hole. The decor here is urban eclectic, with two long bar-tables and stools down the center of the space; quite comfily upholstered living room furniture on the raised stage area; a few cozy booths along one wall; a fine, high, see-and-be-seen row of plush stools at the counter by the plate-glass windows overlooking the expanded patio with its spanking new picnic tables and prime view of Patterson Court’s interior circle.
There are electrical outlets aplenty for laptops, but soon after the cheer went up when the door opened at three sharp, it was clear that on this coolish, grayish Friday, the Summit crowd was interested more in draft beer and hot coffee drinks than tapping into campus wi-fi.
“Soft opening” implies a future “grand opening,” and we’ll look forward to that. For now, hie thee to the court this Friday afternoon or evening (until 9 p.m.) to hoist a glass or nurse a cuppa. It’s the latest great place to be on the Davidson campus!
Nota bene: Helfrich commented that he and the Summit staff are on the lookout (or listen-out, in this case) for a moniker tagline for the campus location. Sharpen up, ladies and gentlemen, you may already be a winner! Meantime, overheard from several patrons in a queue snaking across the new space: “This is so cool!”
State of the State: Four Legislators Take a Deep, Bi-Partisan Breath and a Look at the Question Together
Contentious politics are nothing new in North Carolina or any of the other 49 United States, but the news this year out of the Old North State’s capital city of Raleigh has nonetheless made more national headlines than usual.
To take a closer look at just what’s been going on up there, four state legislators will take a deep breath and lead us in a look together at the “state of the state,” Monday night in Davidson’s Alvarez College Union Smith 900 Room.
Associate Professor of Political Science Susan Roberts will moderate the event with panelists Senator Daniel Clodfelter ’72 (D), Senator Fletcher Hartsell ’69 (R), Representative Grier Martin ’91 (D), and Senator Jeff Tarte (R).
They will discuss “North Carolina Politics: Changes for the State and Challenges for the Nation.”
Updated: Read Leiter’s paper.
Blog props back to Brian Leiter, who gave Davidson a shout-out on his own blog, Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog, after his Tuesday night Hansford M. Epes Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities in the 900 Room, “The Truth is Terrible: Nietzsche’s Idea of an Aesthetic Justification for Existence.”
Wait, don’t jump off that third-floor balcony! Leiter, the University of Chicago Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the Center for Law, Philosophy & Human Values, introduced his topic with a wicked deadpan delivery of a compendium of existential and pestilential ills plaguing the human condition this very day, before zooming back out to the ivory tower view, for a lively, scholarly look at Nietzsche and philosophy through the ages. Quite densely engaging, I must say. I haven’t had to think that hard since my last lunch with Hansford himself, who was seated in front of me for his eponymous lecture. I noticed we chuckled at some of the same parts. That always makes me feel smart.
After the lecture, I asked Leiter what he would recommend for a renewal of my own Nietzsche reading. It’s been a while since I studied him in Humes! Along with his suggestions, he advised a very good secondary source, as well as primary. As it happens, some of those sources have sprung from his own mind, so I’ll look forward to reading some Leiter as well as some Nietzsche. Thanks again, Dr. Leiter!
In the meantime, I close with one of my favorite F.N. quotes, taped to my computer monitor since my own “last century”: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
What’s in your statement of purpose?
In less than 24 hours at Vail Commons, the public is invited to enjoy a magically creative Hogwarts feast, courtesy of the culinary team that provoked the “I Love Commons” YouTube video several years ago.
Tomorrow’s special cook du jour is Holly Tompkins.
“I grew up reading all of the books and think I’ve been to every midnight showing of the movies since they started having them,” Tompkins said, taking a short break from chopping potatoes Wednesday afternoon.
Cooks at Vail Commons are encouraged to bring their creativity to the table—and the chopping board and the stovetop and the oven and the express line and the pizza bar and the sandwich bar and the du jour grill—so it was a natural for Tompkins to adapt her love of food in the Harry Potter books to Commons: “There’s always a feast going on!”
Doors open at 5 p.m.. Price: $12.75 adults, $6.40 children. For more information, call Dining Services Director Dee Phillips at 704-894-2076.
Expecto patronum and bon appétit!
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Wendy Raymond, who began her work at Davidson Aug. 1, addressed her inaugural class of seniors as a group for the first time at Fall Convocation.
“At Davidson, excellence comes in the context of lives of leadership and service, of humane instincts, of disciplined and creative minds,” she said, quoting the college’s oft-cited Statement of Purpose.
Raymond pointed to the “mutually reinforcing” attributes of integrity and transparency as twin foundations that serve Davidson’s readiness to “change and evolve without losing balance.”
She offered the example of her fond familiarity with transfer RNA (tRNA) in molecular biology labs as a framework for understanding change. The function of tRNA is to decode DNA molecules in genetic protein translation. Like the liberal arts and sciences, tRNA molecules have been around a long, long, long time. Both can be seen as an integral part of the changes, evolutions and ongoing iterations of humanity.
So, where does the beagle come in? Well, Raymond’s beloved beagle Lita, a lady of a certain age, is prone to fall down in the midst of all the vivacious spiritedness she brings to each day of being a dog. And what does she do, over and over? She gets back up and keeps going.
Raymond encouraged Davidson students to get used to falling and to getting back up and keeping on, taking risks and learning and bringing those lessons and that experience cheerfully forward. Not bad advice for the rest of us, too. Thanks, Dean Raymond, I needed that!
Davidson College Presbyterian Church filled with love and memories of President Emeritus Samuel Reid Spencer, Jr. ’40, on Monday, Oct. 21, as friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate the life of the college’s fourteenth president. Following are remarks made by President Emeritus John Wells Kuykendall ’59, with kind permission.
SAMUEL R. SPENCER, JR.
June 6, 1919-October 16, 2013
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
“From everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
Everlasting to everlasting is a mighty long time. Our dear loved one, friend, leader, mentor, and hero Sam Spencer lived a mighty long time, too, much to our joy and gratitude. He made 90 look like the new 60!
The psalmist—later generations thought this psalm must have been written by Moses—wrote in a later verse of the 90th Psalm that “the years of our lives are three score and ten.” (v. 10) But Moses or whoever, that psalmist obviously hadn’t met Sam Spencer!
Sam lived a long time, but he also had an awareness of the vast dimensions of “everlasting to everlasting.” He certainly knew that no one lives forever. And he also knew that wherever life begins, and whenever and however life comes to its end, we are encompassed by God’s love in that “everlasting to everlasting.” Sam also knew that in the midst of God’s alpha-to-omega continuum—that “everlasting to everlasting”—God’s watch-care makes whatever life we have a suitable “dwelling place.” Sam Spencer knew those truths.
Moreover, he seemed to have an innate gift for making his presence count for something at every stage along life’s way. The wonderful summaries of his life in the press and other media have called to appropriate remembrance the special qualities and accomplishments of our beloved friend. They gave us a passing summary of some of the places he called home over the years: Rock Hill, Columbia, Davidson (several times!), military service, Cambridge, Staunton, Germany, Richmond. I’ve surely missed too many for my list to earn a passing grade.
But never mind that. The point to be made is that in each of those places, from childhood to these latter days back here in the dwelling place he served and loved (and which surely loved him in return), Sam knew how to do what our Reformed forebears used to refer to as “improving the time.” Each “dwelling place” provided him with God’s gracious opportunity to make a difference. And so he did.
Way back there in the beginning, as a small child in Rock Hill, he made a lasting impression upon those around him as a good person of remarkable talents. I once heard one of his kindergarten contemporaries say some very complimentary things about her former schoolmate, Sammy Spencer. Sammy? She called him Sammy!
Now, as one who had been accustomed from our earliest acquaintance when I was a Davidson freshman to calling him Dean Spencer or Dr. Spencer or, after a few years, President Spencer, I was a little taken aback by that familiarity at first; but it also gave me the courage to start calling him “Sam,” as he had frequently insisted from early in our friendship. (Never got around to calling him Sammy; but that’s probably just as well!)
The main point of the story, though, is to suggest that in his earliest years of inhabiting our “dwelling place,” Sam Spencer had already begun to exhibit the sorts of special gifts and graces which adorned his life throughout. Then the record of what he did in all the other stations and stages is little short of phenomenal. The newspaper tributes could never do it full justice; indeed, neither could any words any of the rest of us might concoct.
Sam was the acknowledged—but inordinately modest—master of his vocation. At Mary Baldwin, at Davidson, surely at other places such as Union Seminary and the several colleges to which he dedicated himself as trustee and mentor, the St. Paul’s Cathedral inscription honoring Sir Christopher Wren is entirely appropriate to Sam’s contributions as well: “If you seek for a monument, look around!” Just here near at hand there is the E.H. Little Library, the Vail Commons, the first stage of the Baker Sports Complex (which he may have thought to be the most urgent part, since it was the Knobloch Indoor Tennis Center!), numerous other physical improvements, here and in his other “dwelling places.” He did not shy away from the task of being a builder not only of facilities but of self-confidence and reputations.
But Sam Spencer’s service in all those places where he had influence was not really—not even primarily—about such things. It was about people; and it was about people being accepted and welcomed and appreciated, and being well-served and encouraged, and being given the opportunity to grow, and challenged to foster their abilities and improve their competencies in order to serve others as they had been served. Every dwelling place for Sam became an occasion for loving and encouraging other people.
He was a leader, and in many respects a cheerleader; he was a visionary, and a practitioner of the possible; he was compassionate and companionable; he looked out for others without any tincture of selfishness or self-interest. Though he was not a large person physically, the word “giant” is entirely appropriate, especially concerning his attentiveness to matters of moral consequence. In such instances, the size of his presence seemed far more formidable than either of these namesakes sitting down front… or, I’ll warrant, any of the rest of us in this room, and most folks beyond.
Those wonderful capacities were certainly evidenced in the home, both the one into which he was born, and the one which he and Ava established and have kept so vitally alive for all these years. The obvious affection Sam had for Ava—and she for him—is for the rest of us a model for marriage; and their children—Reid, Ellen, Clayton, Frank—surely benefitted from his attentiveness to their lives at every turn, to say nothing of his pride in their special accomplishments… and certainly to say nothing of his boundless affection for each and every grandchild (and one great-grandchild), special in her/his own right.
But there’s much more to be said about his capacity for being a source of encouragement and an agent for change in the lives of other people in all his dwelling places. I heard it said last week that a very thoughtful current Davidson student who happens to be African-American made the statement upon hearing of Sam’s death, “You know, if it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be here!” And he spoke truth; not only for himself, but for many, many others among us.
And it, of course, almost goes without saying that if you happen to be a woman at Davidson—woman student or alumna, or woman faculty member or administrator—you are obliged to say something similar.
A brief point of personal privilege, if I may: I testify that he was as good a predecessor as one could ever imagine. When I was a rookie in this place, he said to me, “I’ll answer any question you ask about Davidson; and I won’t answer any question you don’t ask.” And he was as good as his word; and he also made good on a tacit commitment conveyed by his unwavering attentiveness and demeanor to be supportive and encouraging to me…even when I did something stupid!
But we should never forget the source of that sort of behavior and temperament towards all sorts and conditions of people: It was Sam’s profound commitment to Christianity and to the Church. That engendered what his son Frank properly calls an “incarnational faith:” “His was a faith that demanded action, justice, hospitality and compassion in the immediate, in each moment.” He intended the best; he intended “reconciliation now,” Frank says, “in the human moment of pain, injustice, or exclusion.”
Our “dwelling place” would not be at all what God had in mind, unless it is one which is open and welcoming to all God’s daughters and sons. That’s the essence of what motivated Sam Spencer; and any other accomplishments—and their name is surely legion— he had in these nine-decades-plus years were of lasting worth to him only to the extent that they served that purpose.
Though he would think it pretentious and maybe embarrassing to have it said, it is self-evident to the rest of us that the text from Micah 6:8 which Lib is about to use as a touchstone for her prayers of thanksgiving is an apt summary for the ways in which Sam occupied his time and energy here within God’s everlasting presence: doing justice, loving kindness (I still love the older word, “mercy”), and walking humbly with God.
Now, please let me conclude by telling a special story that Sam told on himself.
If it seems to anyone to be inappropriate, I have chosen to ask for forgiveness rather than for permission! This episode took place at Hollins College, which called Sam out of a well-earned retirement to serve as its interim president. (Clayton, he told me that you counseled him that it would be okay to go, so long as he were not “on some quixotic quest for his lost youth.”) Well, he went to Hollins and did a superb job, as one would expect.
It happened one winter evening, though, as he was heading home from the office just at dusk, that he found that the battery had died in his car. It was before the era of cell phones, and he needed to call Ava to come pick him up. He was parked quite near one of the residence halls, and seeing one of the students coming in from a late class, he asked her if he could come into the entryway and use the public telephone because his car wouldn’t start.
She welcomed him quite courteously, but as he stood in the hallway using the phone, one of the other residents saw him at a distance and sang out the time-honored cautionary alert, “Man on the hall!”
The woman who had brought him in quickly responded, “Oh, don’t worry; it’s only Dr. Spencer, and his battery’s dead!”
Well, we shouldn’t worry, either, even in this time of our sadness and loss; but for quite another reason: Sam Spencer’s “battery”—of humanity, of compassion, of honesty and fairness and immense capability, of commitment and of understanding of the nature of our “dwelling place” and the way to discover and achieve its possibilities–that battery is everlasting… in every way!
We give thanks to our Creator, our Redeemer, and our “Dwelling Place” for the life and witness of Samuel Reid Spencer, Junior.
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations… from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”
Random inbox mashup says: Good news and bad news from the Internets this day. I’ll spin it up to say I’m just glad Baseball Head Coach Dick Cooke didn’t get an antibiotic-resistant infection while he was in the hospital!
First, see the inspiring story of Cooke’s return from a grave auto accident to a full and happy life with his family and Wildcat team, featured on Charlotte Today this very morning!
Or, maybe save that inspiring piece for second, to cheer you up after hearing Dr. Arjun Srinivasan ’92, an associate director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on PBS’s Frontline report that aired this week, “Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria.” Have we cooked our own bacterial goose?
What’s the difference between an expectation and an assumption?
What’s the difference between ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and fidgety distraction, between a clinical malady and a plain ol’ undisciplined mind seething around in a widening gyre?
Some days, like today, when I’m feeling more creative than disciplined (in the parlance of alma mater’s Statement of Purpose), I feel like I’ll do just as well to power through my own mental brattiness. Squirrely pings be damned! Git ’er done!
Other days, my calmer, more rational, inquiring mind wants to know more. On such a day recently, I visited Nance Longworth, disability resources and access coordinator in the Center for Teaching and Learning. Not only did I come away with a better understanding of the day-to-day forces in play on the landscape of the life of the mind in 2013, I have a fuller appreciation for the challenges of all college students today, and the resources available to them at Davidson.
“It doesn’t matter so much what it is,” Longworth says of the myriad designations that might be termed “disability.” “What matters is, ‘What does it do?’”
As a self-described campus McGyver, Longworth’s focus is to move quickly from defining a problem to finding a solution. And whether a student’s “symptoms” or functional limitations are physical, mental or emotional, the solution tends to involve some combination thereof.
In terms of learning disabilities, for instance, the very idea can be disconcerting for Davidson students, many of whom graduated in the top percentiles of their high school classes.
“When these students get to Davidson, what they feel is, ‘I was smart when I came to Davidson, and now I’m not anymore!” says Longworth.
Part of that feeling, of course, is the challenge since time out of mind for students here to adjust to the workload this place is built on.
And partly, that feeling speaks directly to the continuing illumination of the full spectrum of learning—abilities as well as disabilities.
For instance, a certain type and degree of ADHD might benefit quickly and directly from a visit to an M.D. who could prescribe medication. Where things really get interesting, from Longworth’s point of view, is the more in-depth work of a psycho-educational evaluation. This approach can include tests for general knowledge, IQ, depression and anxiety, working and longterm memory, retrieval and expression of those memories, and finally, diagnostics for clinical ADHD.
Mental “processing speed” is a critical concept across the spectrum, Longworth explains. That can be viewed as a discrete characteristic, measurable on its own. At the same time, it ties together all the points above, and more—up to and including the jump-start that a first-year student’s social and time management skills need in the shift from high school to college. That’s a lot.
All the more reason for a full array of resources for both teaching and learning in a center for same. From diagnostic tools and assistive technology to person-to-person tips for handling priorities and deadlines, the Center for Teaching and Learning is a good place to start exploring.
What’s in your expectations and assumptions?
Professor of Art Emeritus Herb Jackson checks in from the Big Apple, where his show at Claire Oliver Gallery wraps up this weekend.
“Herb Jackson began his series Veronica’s Veils in 1980 as a way to create a new space in which he could explore the enigmatical nature of the moment when a painting attains a life of its own,” ODelle Abney writes on the gallery’s Web site. “33 years and 223 paintings later, the exhibition Veils: new paintings from the artists ongoing exploration, continues the Artist’s quest to create his own language of space
“Herb Jackson’s paintings are pigment mixed with pumice, built up thin layer upon thin layer which he scrapes off and smoothes as the medium is being applied. Shapes, marks and topography come and go as the Artist engages the paint; gouging, scraping and excavating each consecutive stratum with whatever tool is dictated be it knife, fingernail or even dental tool. For Jackson, the work is a process not dissimilar to experiencing a long life, slowly evolving and revealing itself, much in the same way that our environment changes over time.”