Guest post— with permission from my twin brother John McDargh, Ph.D.:
2013 Senior Recognition Dinner 2013 Boston College Club
I first want to thank Jean Yoder and her colleagues for the great privilege of addressing this remarkable gathering of women and men who are leaving this BC community a different place than you found it when you entered four years ago simply by virtue of your individual and collective investment of passion, creativity and care.
I am not sure why Jean offered me this opportunity to honor you – I didn’t think to ask her - but one reason may be that I simply have been around this place a rather long time. When I was in the Coast Guard we called the man who had been on the ship the longest time the “plank owner”. As I crossed the Charles from Harvard 34 years ago to teach the psychology of religious development, I now am beginning to think of myself as a “plank owner” on the good ship BC.
Now of the best things about being on board this long is not just that you move up from steerage to cabin class, but that you get to be unapologetically a life-long learner. One of my favorite authors , the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst David W. Winnicott, dedicated his very last book “to my patients who paid to teach me”. If I were writing such a dedication it would be “to my students who paid to teach me”.
What I want to share in these brief reflections tonight is what over 8.5 student generations (do that math that is 34 divided by 4), YOU have taught ME about the three essential qualities of leadership that students contribute to steering this vessel called BC into the future..
Some of these are qualities you hopefully share with the faculty, staff and administrators - some are distinctively your own because of the place young adults occupy in the cog-wheeling of generations.
The first quality I want to introduce by way of something I heard over 25 years ago when Helen Caldicott , the great Australian physician and anti-nuclear activist packed St. Ignatius church to talk about the threat that a nuclear war would pose to the planet. She began with this story:
Three men in New York had met in graduate school and become close friends despite coming very different backgrounds. Seamus was an Irish man who came to New York by way of Dublin. Pierre was originally from Paris and the third friend, Abe was the homeboy…. a New York Jew born and raised in Brooklyn. One of the rituals that bonded them over the years was faithfully, once a month to meet for drinks and dinner at their favorite bar on the lower west side. At that meal the other ritual evolved that each time one of them had to propose a question to get the conversation rolling , and that same man had to be the first to try and answer it.
So one month it was Seamus’ turn. “Suppose you went to see you doctor for your annual check up, and he takes some tests and a week later calls you in and tells you this: ‘I’ve got bad news for ya.. I am afraid ya have a rare and fulminating cancer that is incurable.. You only have two weeks to live’. What would you do? “
“Ok, Seamus”, they say, ” you posed the question, you know the rules, what would you do?”
“Well I’ve thought about it and I would lay in crates of Guinness and bottles and bottles of the Jameson’s Irish Whisky. Then I would invite my best mates - including you lads of course - and a fiddler and for two weeks we ‘d have great craic. We would tell stories, sing songs and stay gloriously, bloody drunk the whole time”
“So how about you Pierre?”
“Two weeks? I would take ze presidential suite at the Park Plaza. I would hire ze best chef in New York to prepare three meals a day. I would have a king size bed in ze bedroom and for two weeks I would be there with my beautiful wife Yvette …….. and my lovely mistress Michelle …………. And… why not? … my boyfriend Jacques. And for two weeks ze food and ze sex would be magnifique!
“Abe” , they both ask “ What do you think, the doctor tells you that you only have two weeks to live, what would you do?”
“Nuch, two weeks the doc says, me…….? I’d go for a second opinion!”.
Helen Caldicott’s point is that faced with a diagnosis of impending disaster and a planetary catastrophe , we urgently need ordinary people who will respond not with fatalistic resignation or denial, or retreat into personal pleasure, but rather will go for a second opinion – in fact will create the conditions to make their own second opinion, thus becoming resiient in the process. Over the years this has is what I have learned. Student leaders are the folks who refuse to take no for an answer or accept that a condition can not be healed or changed. – it is perhaps our responsibility as your partners and colleagues or companeros to provide the longer perspective on how long it takes to turn the Queen Mary – but we require the urgency and prophetic witness of each new student generation to challenge our complacency and resignation. We need to be challenged to work together for an alternative , more humanly desirable future.