One Student′s Journey
By Andy Greer ′07
My convictions were tested on a street corner. I expected challenges at Rhodes, but I did not expect the first one would come from a lifelong union member.
The man held a sign bearing the name of my candidate’s chief opponent. His candidate, he said, respected organized labor and the working class—mine did not.
Why did I support my candidate? he wanted to know. Why was I really holding the sign?
We argued briefly over our candidates’ competing policies. Sure, I knew some facts about my candidate’s positions. I had to, because my experiences with the campaign were the basis of a research project for my introductory political science class. But where were those positions rooted? And how valid were they compared to the life experiences of the union member?
My candidate went on to lose that night, as did I. I lost out on a meaningful conversation because I failed to consider the other volunteer’s experiences. I was simply too consumed by articulating mine. Most important, though, I lost because my beliefs were not grounded in meaningful principles.
The political science class that landed me on a street corner was the starting point of a dialogue of self-definition. When I entered Rhodes, I knew that I had an interest in politics. In my first few weeks at my new college home, I actually experienced politics. Our professor, Dr. Mike Kirby, encouraged us to become involved in the Memphis City Council campaign and use our experiences as a basis for our term papers.
A band of my classmates of all political persuasions got involved. We went door-to-door, we organized and we watched a political machine work firsthand. The class was the initial indication I had that the college I had chosen was different from most of the schools my friends attended. Like me, they had aspirations of law school and were in introductory political science courses. Unlike me, their experiences in those courses were often confined to a classroom with a teacher’s assistant.
It is through experiences like these that I learned the value of experiential learning. I did not just participate in politics; I learned the larger lesson about how my assumptions and my past affect my worldview.
These experiences were not the only differences I noticed between Rhodes and my friends’ schools. Even after four years on campus, I still find it a little scary to think just how close I came to attending another college. I had been accepted elsewhere and believed that college was the place for me. But in the wake of Enron and the stock market turmoil of 2002, I joined the ranks of other high school seniors from around the nation whose families’ college savings were affected by corporate scandals. Rhodes was generous to offer scholarship assistance, though I applied later than most. And here I am. Like the majority of my classmates, without fellowships and scholarships, I could not have attended Rhodes.
The Enron debacle stimulated my interest in business ethics, an interest that would later lead me to Professor Mark McMahon. Interestingly, he was one of the first professors I met at Rhodes. The first week of my freshman year, I ran into him on the elevator. He demanded, “Who are you? Where are you going?” in the intense but friendly way that only Professor McMahon could. He ended by telling me I should major in economics. Though I ultimately completed a bridge major in international studies and political science, I took every class I could from him, attesting to the flexibility of Rhodes’ curriculum. He was passionate about teaching, and his desire to learn was contagious. His deep knowledge of the history of economic thought inspired me to explore challenging ideas from controversial writers. In addition to his scholarship and the convictions it inspired, he remained open to new ideas. He realized that he, too, could learn through students’ learning.
His last year at Rhodes coincided with my senior year. I attended his last lecture, which was videotaped for the Rhodes Web site, to hear his passionate teaching one final time.
My story is not unique: Most Rhodes students develop a close relationship with their faculty mentors. My friend Anne-Marie adores Professors Ewing, Ekstrom and Vest; Francesca wants to be just like Professor Davis; Taylor is enthusiastic about Professor Kirby. And we are all engrossed in our academic experiences. John swears the Rhodes Physics Department is the best anywhere; Francesca feels the same way about psychology; Lauren about art. The list goes on and on.
Learning to build consensus
My experiences on the street exposed me to the realities of campaign politics. Those realities did not constitute something I thought I could handle as a career. So I turned to the Rhodes community and found another opportunity that matched my interests more closely: Rhodes Student Government (RSG). With it, I found a community of student leaders whose mentorship and mission broadened my understanding of service, of working together toward common goals and of developing ways to articulate ideas that build consensus.
Each of my friends at Rhodes found outlets that allowed them to develop, as I did, a lifelong passion for learning. For Lauren, it was through CODA; for Ross it was the Rhodes St. Jude Summer Plus program and his student associate fellowship; Francesca thrived in her work with the Crossroads to Freedom project; JoAnna at target=_blank>Hollywood Springdale and Souper Contact; Ginny through V Day. For me, it was RSG, culminating with the presidency my senior year. Very few of us would have had the opportunity to pursue these interests at Rhodes without scholarships and fellowships.
Early on, I met one of Rhodes’ dedicated, passionate staff members, associate dean of students Marie Lindquist, who was our RSG sponsor. We worked together on many projects during the years, but some simple advice she gave me stands out in my mind.
All about process
Thanks to the vibrancy of our campus community, the doors of buildings are often covered with fliers advertising upcoming events. The student newspaper and award-winning literary magazine also spread the word about Rhodes’ communal spirit. To me, though, the missing ingredient was television. Every residence hall room was wired for cable, and Channel 119, the campus network, existed—but in name only. So in February 2006, after talking with some friends, I resolved to investigate what it would take to put students on the air. No planning was complete without Marie, so I called her.
“Slow down, take a deep breath and concentrate on process,” she told me.
I was far more excited about the outcome than the process, but Marie’s advice was exactly what I needed to hear. Over the next couple of days, I begrudgingly began thinking through what was needed to create a television station: writing a constitution and guidelines for our programming, setting up meetings with our existing student publications group and scratching my head about the technical issues involved.
Following Marie’s simple advice exposed me to the practical and technical problems I just couldn’t get my mind around. Rhodes is filled with people who are committed to help solve those kinds of issues. Members of the Information Services group contributed the knowledge that made the station technically possible. Though we filled their e-mail and voicemail boxes with questions, staff and administrators like Bob Johnson (vice president for Information Services) and Joe Wack ’01 (multimedia support manager) tirelessly assisted us as we worked toward our first broadcast.
The station now hosts debates between campus political groups, conversations with President Troutt about tuition and even showcases student artwork. Each of these experiences informed me about the value of communication in a community such as ours.
Our political debates often transcended the issues themselves. People spoke on their views of justice, community and truth—conversations made possible by a liberal arts education that fosters student interest in those questions. My experiences with the station would have changed the way I had interacted that night on the street corner, turning my arguments into a conversation of mutual understanding.
Renovating the Lair
Marie’s emphasis on process paid off again in fall 2006 when Rhodes students requested to renovate the Lynx Lair, tailoring it to today’s needs.
One problem that any governing body faces, whether it’s run by professional politicians or college students, is working toward a meaningful consensus, one that actually embodies the opinions of the people it represents. We were told this would be an expensive renovation, to the tune of $1 million, so making the most convincing case would require the input of many people throughout the year. RSG would have to incorporate the opinions of many students from several different areas of interest.
We formed focus groups of 40 students and alumni who represented just that sort of diversity of opinion. Four RSG members hosted the groups to provide information that could be presented to decision-makers at the college. Our discussions continued into January, during which time students met with administrators, architects and interior designers.
None of this process would have been possible without the help of Allen Boone ’71 (vice president for financial and business affairs who welcomed the renovation as a way alleviate noon crowds in the refectory). The renovation was a complex undertaking, and he made it possible by coordinating the college’s resources and the schedules of the architects and students. A crowd of students, chattering excitedly in our beautiful new facility on its first day, attested to the project’s success. How gratifying it was to see a year’s shared work result in a resounding success whose space embodies the Rhodes spirit of community.
Before attending Rhodes, I was certain I would learn from outstanding faculty. I never dreamed that staff would have such a significant impact on my education. For me, I found that it was the two intersecting that enhanced my Rhodes experience.
Working in the community
Rhodes students enjoy strong ties to the communities both inside and outside our gates. When we do service work in Memphis, we don’t think of ourselves as “volunteers”—what we do just becomes part of us. Finding these meaningful opportunities is made simpler by Rhodes’ rare location for a liberal arts college—in the middle of a major urban area. Our location offers a dizzying variety of learning opportunities.
One of my most significant experiences began on a Friday at a nearby retirement home. My fraternity and a sorority cosponsored the project. Our modest goal was simply to be with the residents during their social hour.
What I discovered was that the retirees were not that different from us. Sure, they were a little grayer and wiser. But they were witty, perceptive and quick to share their lives with us and impart their experiences so that we might learn.
Toward the end of that first day, I was drawn to one resident in particular. He had a doctorate in music and had taught all his life. He missed it.
As our visits continued, his passion for musical performance worked its way into every conversation. Malcolm was transfixed with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. So transfixed, he said, that he had spent the last 20 years trying to perfect his performance of it on the piano.
A few weeks after our initial visit, we arranged for Malcolm to perform one Friday with one of my classmates, a music major, at Rhodes. Malcolm took the stage with some hesitation.
It had been a long time. He sat at the piano, and for that hour he did not need to express his happiness in words: It was evident in every key he struck on the piano. Despite the generational difference, Malcolm and my friend accompanied each other beautifully, Malcolm playing, and she singing.
“This day was the best day of my life,” he told me. His face made me believe him.
Looking to the future
I am still working on my life project. I suspect most people are. I don’t have a perfect self-concept and never will. But finding the answers is not the most important project we have in life. The people at Rhodes, the people who colored my life for four years, enabled me to ask the right questions and set me on the path to find what really matters.
The people who surround Rhodes students are fully prepared to guide us as we contemplate life after college.
During interview season, the value of my Rhodes education appeared in unexpected ways. While interviewing with a Big Four accounting firm, I learned of its presence in Singapore. As part of my international studies senior seminar research, I had studied the effects of Singapore’s government on its capital markets. My knowledge of Singapore and the individual companies with which the firm did business impressed the firm and excited me. I saw relevance in my research, and could now connect my academic work with a career opportunity.
Getting the highest-paying job or majoring in the most sought-after field is not what really matters to me. Knowing yourself, your authentic self, is what is meaningful.
Everything else can follow. This is a journey for which the Rhodes community is uniquely prepared to equip students, whether it begins on a street corner, through a service experience or in a classroom, laboratory or another country. The students contributing to this issue of Rhodes believe in the self-definition a Rhodes education provides. The process continues and, with your support, will provide even more opportunities for the daily, significant discoveries afforded by our community.
From excellent to extraordinary
A $250 million capital campaign launches this month at Rhodes. This is the most ambitious financial goal the college has ever set, but never has there had been a more compelling reason to do so.
The focus is not on new buildings but for a substantially increased endowment to provide access and opportunities to all qualified students, whatever their means. An equally important need is support for faculty and staff who will provide life-changing experiences to those students.
The campaign aims to fulfill the Rhodes Vision adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2003, which states that Rhodes aspires to graduate students with a lifelong passion for learning, a compassion for others and the ability to translate academic study and personal concern into effective leadership and action in their communities and the world.
To accomplish this the college must have the necessary resources. Specifically, we must attract and retain a talented, diverse student body and engage those students in a challenging, inclusive and culturally-broadening college experience as well as ensure that faculty and staff have the talent, time and resources to inspire and involve students in meaningful study, research and service.
On this issue, you will encounter students who have found their directions at Rhodes. Their stories are the best possible reasons to support this campaign.