Amherst Magazine

illustration, tree with human facesFourteen Alumni Ask,
Does the World Have Need of Us?

By Jed Miller '88 and Rob Longsworth '99

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When President Tom Gerety gave his commencement address to the Class of 1999, he discussed the “justness” of the Kosovo conflict and America’s responsibility in helping to reach a conclusion there. Gerety suggested that to have an Amherst education was to have the ability to deal with and take a stand on that and the many other complex issues with which we would be faced as we went forward in our lives, whether it be a multinational crisis or one next door. He finished this address by saying, “The world has need of you.”

Two years later, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, these words turned from rhetoric to solemn reality, not just for the class that heard them, but for all Amherst alumni. The Class of ’88 was particularly affected, as they learned that a classmate had lost a spouse in the World Trade Center’s North Tower. In the e-mail and telephone exchanges that followed, the most common feeling was powerlessness, a frustrated desire to take action that could make a difference. In the ensuing weeks, three members of the Class of 1988—Pauline Young Rush, Erica Stracher Fields and Jed Miller—began talking in more detail about what kind of action we could take. In New York City, Rob Longsworth ’99 joined our team of organizers.

This initial collaboration, with help and enthusiastic input from the Office of Alumni and Parent Programs, was the genesis of the Responding Together project, conceived as a way for alumni to respond collectively and constructively to the tragedies. Throughout the late spring and summer of 2002, Amherst alumni and their Williams counterparts in 10 locations around the country planned volunteer events for the second week of September. In total, more than 300 Amherst and Williams grads participated in Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Tucson, Washington, D.C. and Worcester, Mass.

Our hope now is that we can continue to expand this effort while finding a way to make community service a continuing part of the lives of all Amherst alumni. This collection of participants’ and nonparticipants’ comments is the first step toward what we hope will be an ongoing conversation about community service among the alumni community.

— J.M., R.L.

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Illustration: Tim Lee, theispot.com