The Colgate Scene
March 2003

From the editor
Education, transformation, transcendence

More years ago than I care to remember, I saw a bumper sticker emblazoned with the phrase "If you can read this, thank a teacher."

As trite as that expression might be, it sums up much of why I enjoy my work at Colgate University. At the center of so many stories published in the Scene runs a common theme, that of a teacher's significance in influencing, if not transforming, a young person's life. The teacher might be Coleman Brown, Margaret Maurer, Bob Blackmore, Robert Linsley, Jill Harsin, Harvey Sindima or others too numerous to mention, but the message is essentially the same. Someone will say, "I am where I am today because of . . ."

My abiding belief in the power of education to transform an individual life was instilled in me by my first teacher -- my mother, Roberta Lee Andrews Frank. When my mother was born in Mississippi during the mid 1920s, she entered a world that didn't care if black children received much education, if any. After she migrated from Mississippi to Utica, N.Y. with my great-grandparents in the late 1930s, it is arguable that her new school system didn't care much either. But one teacher did.

This particular teacher (whose name my mother took with her to the grave) saw her unrealized potential. At the teacher's urging and, perhaps, charity, my mother secured a ticket to see the legendary singer-actor Paul Robeson perform on stage in Utica. Seeing Robeson -- who was also an All-American football player and a lawyer -- was a transcendent experience for her because it was the first time she considered that the only limits to her intellectual growth were those she placed upon herself.

After seeing Robeson, my mother read more than ever, developed a love of opera and became a devoted Anglophile. Throughout her life, she was drawn to people, especially artists and entertainers, who refused to be limited by boundaries set by others. Aside from Robeson, her heroes and heroines included Marion Anderson, Leontyne Price, Edward Villella, James Mason and in her later years, Derek Wolcott and Tina Turner. Influenced by the example of Robeson's activism, my mother donated much for her time to a number of organizations, although she was most proud of co-founding a volunteer literacy training program in the Utica public schools.

I am fortunate to have had the faith in education that my mother gave me further reinforced by some wonderful men and women. One of them was my tenth grade history teacher, Colgate alumnus Wilbur Kirwan '50. He showed me that history was much more than a parade of important dates and personalities. In Kirwan's hands, history was composed of blood and sinew, victory and defeat, and tears of joy and sorrow. Sometimes, Kirwan tried to explain, things that seemingly contradict each other -- such as humor and horror -- can coexist, which is why as Memorial Day approached each year he would recite Wilfrid Owen's haunting Dulce et Decorum Est, followed by Arthur Guiterman's hilarious Pershing at the Front.

When some people learn that I'm an editor, they immediately assume that I wield dictatorial power in the fashion of fictional editors such as Perry White. In my case, nothing could be further from the truth, but I do have close to unfettered control of these few lines. I assert that control now with a simple, heartfelt message to Wilbur Kirwan, all my other teachers, but most of all, to my mother.

I am where I am today because of you. Thank you.

Gary E. Frank

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