From the Goucher Quarterly, Summer 2008

The scene was the Mildred Dunnock Theatre in the Meyerhoff Arts Center over Alumnae/i Weekend last spring, and I settled in to watch an unusual performance of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. When you have seen that American classic so many times that you can practically mouth most of the lines, the threshold for excitement tends to be high, but this was truly an extraordinary experience.

About half the actors were Goucher students, and the other half residents of Edenwald, the retirement community just beyond our gates. One of the women playing a key role was a dead ringer for Helen Hayes, and one of the male leads was taken by a gentleman who was carrying his oxygen supply on his hip. The students seemed totally at ease playing opposite people the age of their grandparents. You could see that everyone involved was bursting with pride over the success of this collaboration—especially the director, Eryn London ’08, founder of the Intergenerational Theater Project—and so was I. It is doubtful that anyone who saw the production, in one of its presentations in Dunnock or at Edenwald, will forget it anytime soon.

That’s the thing about life at a place like Goucher: It is full of surprises and of golden moments like this one that we often forget to brag about in the ordinary rush of events. So I thought I might use my space this time around to tell you about just a few of the wonderful things that Goucher people do in their spare (or not-so-spare) time these days.

Consider the fact, for example, that last year 78 of our students served as mentors and tutors at Lemmel Middle School, Guilford Elementary School, the Hampden Family Center, and Yorkwood Elementary School. They worked a total of 4,745 hours in the community, serving more than 100 Baltimore City schoolchildren weekly.

Some were using their federal work-study grants, and others were simply good, old-fashioned volunteers trying to improve the lives of those less fortunate. And they did. Among many other things, they helped with homework and created wholesome after-school activities in neighborhoods beset by gang violence and in schools experiencing chaotic changes in leadership. In one instance, Goucher athletes got into the act and brought 20 youngsters from the third to fi fth grades to campus for a field day.

Many of these community-service activities are supported and enhanced by a little-known grant provided to Goucher through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). It was funded by an earmark in a congressional appropriations bill sponsored by U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland and a loyal friend of Goucher. (She received an honorary degree from the college in 1973, when she was still a member of the Baltimore City Council.)

The DOJ Grant, as we know it, is administered by Lindsay Johnson ’05, and I don’t know how she keeps all of its allied programs and partnerships straight. The grant sponsors, among other laudable efforts, student work with Wide Angle Youth Media, a nonprofi t group that addresses critical social issues through fi lm and multimedia, as well as the Barclay Boys Project, an initiative intended to provide strong, positive role models to young men in a neighborhood near Goucher’s original midtown Baltimore campus.

Then there’s the Read-a-Story/Write-a-Story program at Dallas Nicholas Elementary School, which, thanks to the grant, now has its own radio station. The grant also supports Goucher’s partnership with the Baltimore County chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, a national sorority committed to community service, aimed at helping ninth-grade students make constructive decisions about their future. Before long, these and other partnerships will be based in the Anne M. Pinkard ’46 Community Service Center in the Athenaeum; the center’s inclusion in the building was also aided by the congressional earmark.

During spring break, while many of their peers were doing reconstruction work in New Orleans, six Goucher students joined 14 others from Baltimore-area colleges and universities on a Hillel-sponsored trip to Honduras. There they worked with a local non-governmental organization to help create a more sustainable agricultural economy, and participated in discussions about the relationship of social justice, community service, and their own religious principles. Among the group was Samuel Adatto ’09, the incoming president of the Student Government Association, which has made a new commitment to promoting social justice issues at Goucher.

Over the summer, a number of our students, including several recent graduates, worked with the Goucher site of SuperKids Camp. The inspiration of Sally J. Michel ’60, a member of our Board of Trustees, this six-week program brings rising secondand third-graders from the Baltimore City schools to our campus, along with nine other sites around town, to work on their reading and math skills and athletic abilities. It is a great thrill to see the pied pipers from Goucher leading their young charges from place to place, amid the construction and past the other campers here for lacrosse, dance, jazz, and symphony summer programs.

So the next time you hear the widespread (and often politically motivated) complaints about the costs, the irresponsibility, and the irrelevance of institutions of higher education in the United States, I hope you’ll join me in describing the amazing things that Goucher students—and those at many other places—are doing to give back to their communities. These are signifi cant and hopeful actions, transcending the boundaries of age, social class, neighborhoods, and nations to make a difference and build a better future.