After twenty years with MESA, the last nine as Executive Director, I am retiring. At such a time one cannot help but become retrospective. Day-to-day you focus on the MESA students and you worry about their futures and you try to measure their progress and success. What did they learn? Did we make a difference? You spend much less time on, “What did I learn… Did I learn anything that can help us all understand our world?” As one ages, that question looms larger.
I think I have gained some insight from my MESA years, so let me see if I can articulate it. But first—in case you don’t already know—I am pale, male and gray and I write from that perspective.
At this time our world is both extraordinary and scary. If you read the press and listen to the pundits, we have major problems. There are Syrian refugees in Europe, Latin American immigrants in the U.S., and English language learners from everywhere in our classrooms. What is common among all of these groups? In the eyes of those already here (wherever here may be), they are different, mysterious; they are “other” than we are. For the majority of Americans, especially those like me, we aren’t very comfortable with the “other” because they make us uneasy and uncomfortable in our own country or town or neighborhood—an experience we’ve never felt, nor do we normally seek. Being the other doesn’t mean being a tourist or a guest for dinner. It means living with and valuing distinct social and economic capital differences from the majority.
Every day that I worked with my colleagues and the students in MESA, I was invited to appreciate the other and gain a deeper understanding of how the American quilt is created. After all, our nation’s motto is E pluribus Unum – from the many, one. Until we as a people embrace and understand the other, we can never truly appreciate the patchwork quilt of others that is our country. We must seek to understand the other. That is how we become better, as a nation and as people.
Thank you all for the opportunity that MESA offered and for what I have learned. Now, in the words of my favorite philosopher, Groucho Marx:
“Hello, I must be going, I cannot stay, I came to say, I must be going. I’m glad I came, but just the same, I must be going.”