January 27, 2016
For the final installment of my January Fleming Education Intersections, I turn to the Academic League of Nations that my parents exposed me to throughout my childhood. I don't know if my experiences with academic get-togethers were atypical in Morgantown than in other college towns; certainly the 1960s and 1970s offered an easier time to coordinate such dinner parties.
Sure, maybe the pot pies and the crock pot
Pot luck dinners became a family joke,
But I seriously doubt the young boy
Could have truly appreciated the exotic
Progressive dinners that featured
Orangish soups in tiny Thai bowls
That less worldly folk might have scoffed
Were too small to even serve as gravy boats,
And those tiny red crystal glasses:
How did anyone quench their thirst?
That boy would have called those dinners
Depressive not progressive.
Yet, they were progressive and they impacted me
In ways too subtle for a younger me to see.
How many kids can say their night was
Populated by at least the physicist, the chemist,
The anthropologist, the political scientist,
The economist, the engineer,
The musical or the feminist theorist.
(Or, so many more that came through the door.)
Even today if I crow that any combination
Of these academics came to a party,
Expectations would be of a joke, but no punchline
(unless you count the time the punch got double-spiked).
Amongst them all was the steady flow
Of the pharmacologists, my father's extended family,
Exceptional scientists, better teachers,
(Unprecedented excellence in teaching
Awards to an entire department),
Dedicated men and women to the mission
Of their department and their school.
Best of all the jokes came fast and furious,
Improv before I even knew what that was.
I, their willing audience, always
Accepted in their laboratories
And on their diamonds as if one of them.
I grew to know these people by these disciplines
Moreso than by actual names,
I hope never disrespectful, just heedful
Of their representation of one piece of thoughtful
Dialogue about the nature of the world.
Everyone so welcoming of the interruptive boy
Sprinting in to update a score,
Even though he was sure
Only his dad and the poli scientist particularly cared,
Perhaps his ruse to more easily eavesdrop
On conversations beyond the cup of his hand to ear
And certainly way over his head.
In a time dominated all the more
By anti-intellectual scorn
That destroys the country's promise,
I recognize the privilege of being born
Into a world so open to the value of ideas
And academic ideals.
Even as we saw these erode in the transition
Of dad's retirement and my rise,
I vowed to fall back on the same sense of community
And shared investiture,
even if rank or title or office
Threaten to take this all away from me.