My oldest son just graduated from Carleton, a small liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota. When we left for our long weekend in the Midwest, I did expect to feel joy and pride, but I didn’t expect those four days to shift my world.
During his years at Carleton, Anschel taught swing dance. As we walked through campus, another student stopped to thank my son for bringing dance into his life. Obviously, Anschel had become a student in the Carleton community; but he also had become a valued teacher. Through the weekend, a key feature of this college revealed itself: students are encouraged to become active catalysts for education. This approach to learning is a Carleton tradition, as deeply engrained as The Alma Mater.
The graduation ceremony was stunning, and the program included two student speakers. One began with a quote from Dr. Seuss. She talked about Carleton’s commitment to experimenting and discovering, through allowing its students to fall and instilling the confidence needed to get back up.
The second speaker honored a classmate who died in a car accident during their freshman year. He described his classmate’s openness about living with Asperger’s Syndrome, and how his lost friend’s honesty had changed the lives of others.
Both speakers shared their thoughts with eloquence and humor, with warmth and intelligence, with an absolute lack of pretentiousness. At this small, shining college, the students learned to learn, learned to teach, learned to remain open to new ideas. As I listened to the words of these young minds, I kept thinking that Carleton’s president and professors must have been powerful role models to create such an enriched and enriching environment.
On our final evening, Anschel showed our family The Arboretum. A prairie sunset is like none other. From steely gray with darker gray designs like enormous birds’ wings, to cottony patches of orange, to a bronze glow so bright I shielded my eyes, to gentle pink streaked with not-quite-purple — the sky held the entire palette. I stopped and looked up, taking in the canopy of color that motivated pioneers to survive storms, illness, fires – to build towns, schools, houses of worship.
Anschel will always view Carleton as one of his homes. Going forward, he will carry his joy in bringing dance to others, the wisdom of a classmate lost before his time, the words of Dr. Seuss, and prairie sunsets.
Thanks to the generosity of spirit within this extraordinary community, I’ll carry those things with me as well.
Congratulations to my oldest son, and to the Carleton class of 2014.
Amy Kaufman Burk is a novelist, blogger and mother of three grown children. Amy wrote her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of training. Amy blogs on a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+, gender equality and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her books in their curriculum.
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