School vacation week. Why not take the family to the Big Apple? We did.
“They” wanted to see the blinking brilliance of Times Square and to determine whether they really could “believe” at the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum. I was curious to see another institution, one of America’s most venerable, just blocks from our hotel: the New York Public Library. It epitomizes the word venerable.
Touring through the almost hallowed halls of this great public institution was indeed a privilege and the word venerable, not common in today’s parlance, kept rising in my thoughts. I clutched my I-Phone, torn between just being present to the beauty around me and the urge to “click” photos as mementos of the library’s grandeur — from preciously luminous marble corridors, lion-headed brass water fountains, and Sistine ceilings — to murals showcasing the chronology of the written word, beginning with Moses’ tablets, then oral tradition, Gutenberg, and the birth of books. I wondered. Will they create another mural with someone using an I-Pad?
The library’s imposing original circulation desk, with its intricately carved wooden facade, overlooks long narrow tables populated with public laptops, and people of all types — the tweedy gentleman, the homeless woman, the tattooed Gen-Y-er — intently focused on discovery. Almost paralleling that room’s awesomeness, were the special collections along the corridors, named for the philanthropic families responsible for nurturing the library’s greatness.
Not surprising, was the enormous DeWitt-Wallace Periodical Room. But, almost equally prominent were the “Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle,” the “Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy,” the “Berg Collection of English and American Literature,” and the “Schomburg Art and Artifacts Division.”
In each case, private philanthropy was behind the creation of these resources to expand human understanding. These philanthropists saw the importance of knowledge for the public good and their endowments perpetuate opportunities to feed the intellectually hungry.
Venerable . . . veneration — religious meanings aside, I refocused on the word — this time as a verb. Among Webster’s definitions of is “calling forth respect through character.” The philanthropists who helped create the New York Public Library venerated the intellectual character of every American. In each might might emerge the next Jasper Johns, Betty Friedan, Nelson Mandela, or Steve Jobs. Who knows the significant contributions any person might make for our nation, the world, or for humanity itself. This ideal of the vast potential of universal opportunity was at the core of their generosity.
At UMass Boston I see our students venerated every day. And last Monday, that veneration was particularly poignant at our annual “Celebration of Support” where scholarship donors and their recipients get to meet one another. Danielle Paez ’13, one of six brothers and sisters and the first to attend college, offered a student’s perspective. In May, she will become the first person on both sides of her family to receive a college degree. “Receiving this scholarship support has had a domino effect of positivity throughout many aspects of my life,” she said.
Alumni Association President Marijo McCarthy offered a donor’s perspective. She talked about the role that public education — through UMass Boston’s accessibility and excellence — had in shaping her life. Then she shared a story about a special Christmas gift she received this year. One of the employees in the law firm surprised her by making the most meaningful gift McCarthy could receive. It was a contribution to the
James and Joann McCarthy Student Success Fund which she established in honor of her mom and dad about a year ago.
Clearly, for McCarthy, that scholarship venerates human potential just as the great philanthropists did. While her wealth is no where close to theirs, the motivation behind her generosity is shared: a reverence for enormous potential of students, no matter from what life circumstance they come. Students like Danielle, for whom education has led to powerful “positivity.” Students, who with the support of donors, travel confidently down the marble corridors of prosperity.
Nan Cormier is director of advancement communications