Takin’ It Slow

As a culture, we love speed. We love our food fast and out Internet faster. We love instant gratification, speedy delivery, and accelerated learning. But what do we lose when we prioritize efficiency over, well, just about everything?

We asked faculty, staff, and students who take a more contemplative approach to share how slowing things down just might make life a little better.

(By Erin Peterson; Illustrations by Lorenzo Petrantoni)

Board Certified

 Douglas W. Mabie ’86

Mabie, who earned an M.B.A. from Northwestern University in 1995, is a managing director in the private wealth division of Robert W. Baird Inc. He manages customized investment portfolios for individuals, families, and institutions. Prior to joining Baird in 2012, Mabie spent 24 years at William Blair & Company as a partner and portfolio manager in its investment management division. Mabie also is the founder and director of the Springboard Foundation of the Chicago Community Trust, a director of the Western Golf Association/Evans Scholars Foundation, and a trustee of North Shore Country Day School.

Mabie has been active with the Posse Foundation, creating internships and scholarship opportunities for Denison Posse Scholars. In addition, he has served Denison as a career advisor, as a President’s Associates volunteer, and as a member of the President’s Leadership Council and his Reunion Gift Committee. Mabie is a member of the D-Association and received an Alumni Citation in 2011. During his time at Denison, he played varsity basketball and became a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

Thomas E. Szykowny ’79 

This is Szykowny’s second term on  Denison’s board of trustees, having served as recent student trustee from 1979 to 1982, immediately following his graduation from Denison. During that time, he worked toward earning a J.D. from the Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law, graduating in 1982. Today he is a corporate, business, and insurance regulatory lawyer. Szykowny joined Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease in 1982 and has served as the chairman of the firm’s Business Development Committee and as a member of its Management and Investment Committees. Currently he chairs the full-service insurance practice of the firm.

Szykowny was the recipient of the Columbus Jaycees Distinguished Service Award and received the Ohio State Bar Association and Columbus Bar Association Community Service Awards. He is a past president of the Buckeye Ranch and I Know I Can. He also serves on the board of directors of CBS Agency Inc., and is a trustee of The Griffith Foundation. In August 2010, Szykowny was announced as a new member of the Greater Columbus Arts Council. He was a trustee of The Columbus Academy and served as board president from 2007 to 2010. Szykowny has served Denison as an Annual Fund volunteer, campaign volunteer, career adviser, DURF trustee, President’s Associates volunteer, and chair of his Reunion Gift Committee. He was awarded the Alumni Citation in 1995.

Banner Year

One of the most recent additions to this growing collection is a mystery. A banner stolen from Denison’s athletic center, then Livingston Gym, resurfaced this past June during Reunion Weekend and is now proudly displayed in Alumni Relations’ front window.

“One of the alums on the 50th reunion planning committee came up to me and said, ‘A fellow classmate would like to return this to the college. He’s lived with guilt for 50 years and wants to give it back,’” said Steve Crawford, director of alumni relations. The previous “owner” wished to remain anonymous.

These types of donations, however, are not new to the Alumni Relations Office. “This has happened other times,” said Crawford. For instance, about five years ago the staff received a package in the mail containing tools that would be useful in a theatre scene shop. The accompanying written confession said, “I stole comparable items during my time at Denison and would like to replace them.”

Similarly, Alumni Relations often gets bequests from visiting alumni or the families of deceased Denisonians. The staff also has been known to “rescue” valuables, such as pictures used for events, from the trash.

The recovered banner, however, is the largest artifact in the office and a favorite of Crawford. “I hung it up right away before it could be moved down to Mitchell,” he said with a laugh, noting that he’s certain the athletics staff would love to have it back home. “I have no plans of taking it down there.”

 

Back from the Edge

It’s hard to believe that the talent and energy of Frank Zappa, a man who refused to be measured by any conventional standard, have been gone for 20 years. When I was lucky enough to meet him briefly in 1971, it would never have occurred to me that he would also be kind. By then he had released only a dozen of his 70-plus albums, any one of which could drive the guests from a party with its collision of styles and angry lyrics. He might target the news media’s lurid coverage of the race riots in Watts, or the violence for sale with Christmas toys, or the hypocrisy of a congressman’s affair with his teenage queen. But as often he’d directly scold his own audience: “You think we’re singing about someone else!”

Zappa was on tour with a newly re-formed Mothers of Invention, which brought them to a former skating-rink-turned-concert-venue in Kansas City, Mo.—the Cowtown Ballroom. It was my first concert. Desperately in need of some alternative to my high school culture, I wasn’t going to miss seeing Zappa.

When “Flo and Eddy” (who had quit the Turtles and joined the new Mothers) started singing “Happy Together,” I broke into tears that I couldn’t stop for the rest of the performance. After the concert, the crowd dispersed, but I remained standing, still crying, watching the roadies break down the equipment. No doubt I was conspicuous. Zappa saw me there and walked up, extending his hand in a business shake, and asked me what was wrong. I was so overwhelmed, all I could think to tell him was about my mother’s poodle—a dreadful animal with painted nails who would have panic attacks when the television was turned off (attacks that eventually killed her, though not yet). Zappa gave me his business card and told me to write him a letter about it. He offered me the best two words of advice I could have gotten: “Convert it.” I understood him to mean that I should change the way I saw circumstances I couldn’t change, convert them into something I could survive. Maybe that’s not what he meant at all, but at that moment, it helped.

Zappa’s early works always had an edge that made it difficult to tell if he was mocking or paying tribute to major musical figures of the ’60s. He scrambled together lines and sounds of Dylan, Donovan, the Beatles, and Hendrix, splicing in stoned dialog, the scratch sounds of a stereo needle, obscene lyrics recorded backwards, or perhaps some orchestral pieces by Holst or Stravinsky. The jacket notes for his double-album debut in 1966, called “Freak Out,” boasted that it had “no commercial potential,” with a song that even mocks his audience, “Maybe that’s not for me to say. They only pay me here to play.”

How ironic that Zappa’s distinctive face became an emblem of the counterculture when in truth he was one of its most insightful critics.

Within a year of the Beatles’ release of “Sgt. Pepper’s,” arguably the anthem for the late ’60s, Zappa released a prophetic satire of it and the culture it encouraged, called “We’re Only In It for the Money,” with the lyrics, “Every town must have a place where phony hippies meet, psychedelic dungeons popping up on every street.”

Zappa was the first person I heard warn that hippies would be shot by the police (two years before the Kent State shootings), that the movement would devolve into a shopping style, that “flower power” was only escapist laziness.

For all the self-critique Zappa brought to the counterculture, he also offered the best-reasoned defense of its constitutional right to self-expression. He printed the first amendment on the record sleeves of his earliest albums. In 1985, when Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center nudged the U.S. Senate to consider mandating content warnings on sexually explicit music, Zappa testified before Congress that the proposed censorship measure was “the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation.” “People who write bad laws,” he added, “are more dangerous than songwriters who celebrate sexuality.”

When his predictions about the counterculture came true, he apparently lost interest in significant satire and started singing nonsense lyrics about yellow snow, songs about farms that grow dental floss, even a song about a poodle. But if he lost his spirit for angry lyrics, he kept his energy for composing jazz, classical music, and that distinctive sound I can always recognize as his.

Frank Zappa died from prostate cancer 20 years ago on Dec. 4, 1993. Were they musical geniuses, too, satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert might be seen as his successors today, but they don’t come close to expressing the raw anger and frustration of today’s generation that Zappa did for us. Rest in peace, Frank Zappa, or maybe not.

Once Upon A Time …

Well into the 20th century, vigorous rivalry between the freshmen and the sophomores was part of the Denison culture, and every October the superiority of one class over the other was tested and proven during an annual release of energy known as “Scrap Day.” That’s “scrap” as in “tussle.”

Cane rush, flag rush, and pole rush were the most common scraps, and all three involved one class rushing at the other on the playing field, tackling and even tying up the opposing team members with rope and dragging them off the field. In cane rush, the stick or “cane” was the object of the battle—to possess it and to move it as deeply as possible into the opponents’ territory. The cane can be seen being held by the fellow at the base of the “1,” probably freshman class president Robert B. Whyte.

The Denisonian of the time described the event in great detail. “Slugging and kicking” were against the rules, but college administrators were clear that “Wholesome class rivalry over this beautiful Denison tradition is a thing to be commended.” This particular brawl lasted all of 15 minutes, after which “the majority of both classes was ready to quit.”

It was tradition that the young ladies of the two classes would arrive on horse-drawn hay wagons decorated in class colors, singing and cheering throughout the scrap. At the end, the winners were served cups of hot coffee by the girls, and after this 1908 scrap, it was reported that they made room on their wagon for an injured sophomore to be carried back to campus from Beaver Field.

@AdamAtDenison: Let’s Talk

For years, my wife Anne has had to listen to my concerns about higher education. During my first semester at Denison, she listened to me talk endlessly about how Denison does it right, and how we should work harder to tell our story and engage in important public debates.

Denison has a great story to tell, and I am convinced we need to tell it more frequently and better. So I have decided to join the age of social media and tweet. When the idea was first raised, I was a bit hesitant. To be honest, I had never been on Twitter. But as I experienced Denison, I began to see the possibilities.

I want to find more ways to communicate with the larger Denison community. And I want to do this in ways that are regular, interactive, and unfiltered. Twitter will allow me to post short snapshots of Denison and the state of higher education in this country. It also allows you to respond and ask questions, which I will try to answer as best I can in 140 characters or fewer.

Here are a few items from my first semester that Twitter would have allowed me to share:

In December, there was a fascinating editorial in The Wall Street Journal that discussed the disengagement of faculty at many colleges. Denison is a counterexample to this trend in every way. Our faculty are deeply engaged in the education of our students and the college. By staying true to certain prin- ciples, we have managed to retain a teacher-scholar model that is the essence of a great college education.

Second, there is growing national concern about financial aid and student loan debt burdens. Our conservative management philosophy and commitment to multiple forms of financial aid have run counter to much thinking in higher education. They also have allowed us to achieve a 57 percent discount rate, meaning that on average, students pay only 43 percent of the full Denison tuition, with the college picking up the rest of the tab through grants and scholarships.

Third, Denison has become a benchmark liberal arts col- lege for diversity. This year, 32 percent of our students bring some form of ethnic or racial diversity to campus and 13 percent are first-generation college students. Our campus dynamics suggest ways of educating and training a genera- tion to move beyond the polarized political discourses of our society to invent a new form of civil democracy.

In other words, I want to use Twitter to put the spotlight on some of the major issues facing higher education and how we address them.

And of course, I’ll also keep you posted on the progress Denison is making in areas such as admissions (Denison has become one of the most selective colleges in the country, admitting 46 percent of our applicants, compared with 84 percent in 1994); arts (we had an amazing fall filled with bluegrass music, theatre and dance performances, art shows, comedy troupes, and everything in between); and athletics (this fall, field hockey was 17-2, football was 7-3, men’s soccer was 11-4-3, women’s soccer finished first in its league, and women’s rugby finished 13th in the country and claimed the DII Ohio state championship for the third year in a row).

Sociologists talk about finding the abnormal in the normal. This expression captures my first semester at Denison.

The “normal” daily events at Denison are extraordinary for the impact they are having on a generation of stellar students, preparing them to be the world-class human beings who have defined this college for generations.

I need your help raising the visibility of Denison by letting the rest of the world know about the tremendous things happening at this college. If you find something interesting, please retweet it and/or post it to Facebook, LinkedIn, or your other social media accounts. Email links to friends, especially those who have children of high-school age. Help me use technology to raise Denison’s visibility in ways that are important for Denison and higher education.

For those who are well versed in social media, advice is welcome. For those who have been slow to embrace social media, consider opening a Twitter account and learning with me. For those who are not inclined, know that I will continue to focus most of my time on the face-to-face relationships that define Denison, making it the college we admire and cherish.

Blue Moon

As moments in musical history go, the events leading up to the formation of the Hilltoppers, Denison’s oldest male a cappella group, might seem inauspicious. They’re also somewhat vague. Accounts vary, and one of the group’s key instigators, Peter Frame ’82, is no longer available to answer questions, having lost a 20-year battle with a brain tumor in 2013, the same year the ensemble celebrated its 35th anniversary.

According to Laura Gray Frame ’83, her soon-to-be boyfriend and eventual husband was studying in his dorm room in Smith Hall on Halloween night in 1978 when Andy Zweig ’82 appeared outside his ground-floor window and began belting out Broadway show tunes. Frame went outside and began singing along, hoping eventually to quiet Zweig. The next day, the two decided to form a vocal group.

Zweig remembers things a bit differently. It was midnight on the West Quad and the song was the national anthem. When Frame begged him to stop, Zweig replied, “The only way I’m going to stop is if you sing with me.” Frame consented, joining Zweig in perfect harmony. It was, Zweig recalls, an aha moment. “I didn’t know what we had,” he says, “but I knew we had something.”

What they had turned out to be the nucleus of the Hilltoppers. Seeking like-minded harmonizers, Frame and Zweig went to William Osborne, founder of the Denison Singers and now distinguished professor of fine arts emeritus. Osborne, in turn, pointed them toward Teddy Pearre ’80, a junior who also had been trying to get a male a cappella group off the ground. Pearre showed up at rehearsal with five other singers in tow, and the Hilltoppers were born.

From the outset, the group’s emphasis on four-part harmony meant that most of its material consisted of barbershop quartet tunes (“Peg o’ My Heart,” “Strolling Through the Park One Day”), 1950s doo-wop hits (“Duke of Earl,” “Blue Moon”), African-American spirituals (“Ride in the Chariot”), and the occasional show tune, all of which were either acquired as written arrangements—some of them mooched from high school choir directors over winter break—or lifted by ear from recordings. The octet also managed to score prime evening rehearsal space: a basement lounge by a stairwell in what was then an all-female Shorney Hall that offered both excellent natural reverb and scores of curious nightgown-clad coeds. “That’s when I knew I wanted in,” recalls Rick Houpt ’81, a sophomore whose future wife, Patty Ripley ’81, was a frequent target of the group’s romantic serenades.

That first iteration of the Hilltoppers wasn’t short on musical talent—everyone had some singing experience, and Frame in particular was a gifted first tenor—but opportunities for  performances were hard to come by, and sometimes a bit rough: Houpt persuaded his fraternity to let the Hilltoppers sing at a Parents Weekend cocktail party; Patty landed them a similar gig at her sorority; and the group butchered the national anthem at the annual Homecoming game. Their big break came in 1981, when a private performance for the board of trustees—a de facto audition that led to a multicity tour during which the group entertained alumni clubs from Boston to Pittsburgh. That same year, the group recorded its debut album in a basement studio in Pataskala, Ohio. To save money, the sessions began at 10 p.m., typically ending at 2 or 3 a.m.; and just to make things more interesting, Zweig and a couple of other Jewish members teased the engineer, who had never before recorded anything but Christian religious music, about “singing a couple in Hebrew.” (They didn’t.)

Bill Wexler ’79, another founding member, never imagined that the group would have such legs. Wexler himself was in the ensemble for only a year, and might never have joined at all if Teddy Pearre hadn’t heard him humming in an adjacent lane during an intermediate bowling class in the alley that once occupied the third floor of Slayter Hall. Yet today, Wexler hosts a monthly gathering at his home in Cincinnati that draws members of the Hilltopper Alumni Club (HAC) from Columbus to St. Louis. “I’m not sure if they come for the free food and beer, or for the harmony and camaraderie,” says Wexler, who considers his fellow participants—none of whom he knew at Denison—to be among his closest friends.

A plaque honoring the eight founding members now stands outside Higley Hall, and 20 or 30 members of the HAC gather on campus each spring, with even larger numbers coming together at five-year intervals to participate in “Generations” concerts that see clusters of former and current members performing together on stage. Something similar occurred at the memorial that was held for Frame in Swasey Chapel in August, when more than 50 alumni joined the current batch of Hilltoppers to sing “Abraham, Martin and John.” “It was very difficult for me to make it through that song, because I remembered singing it with Pete,” says Wexler.

Yet the presence of so many past and present Hilltoppers paid fitting tribute to a man whose timely musical intervention one Halloween night helped establish an institution that continues to play an outsize role in the lives of its members. “It was a testament not only to Pete,” says Houpt, who spoke at Swasey of Frame’s commitment to the ensemble, “but to the group.” And Frame’s legacy lives on, not only through the current Hilltoppers, but through his two daughters, Taylor and Campbell. Like Dad before her, Taylor, a senior at Denison, belts out tunes with one of the college’s all-female a cappella groups, Ladies’ Night Out.

Advice from the Expert: It May Look Like Dinner, But …

Show up early, locate the restrooms, and get yourself situated. Let the host or hostess know that you’ve arrived. If your interviewer is already seated, you will be escorted to the table. Remember, do not sit down until you are offered a seat—your interviewer will determine where he or she wants you to sit. 

Put your napkin on your lap when your interviewer does so. And remember, that napkin is to blot your mouth should any food go rogue, otherwise it should stay put. Dinner napkins are folded in half, with the fold facing you. Luncheon napkins, generally smaller, should be opened fully. Should you need to excuse yourself from the table, place your napkin on the seat of your chair—never put a soiled napkin back on the table until the meal has ended.

Consider it all a game of “follow the leader.” Pick up your menu when the interviewer picks up his or her menu. If she orders an appetizer, you order an appetizer; if he orders dessert, you order dessert. The rules change only when alcohol is involved. If your interviewer chooses a martini, you’re better off with sparkling water or an iced tea. Oh, and stay away from heavily carbonated beverages, the results can be embarrassing at best.

If you’re not sure what to order, ask your interviewer what she would recommend. By asking, you will get an idea of a price range. By no means is this an opportunity to order the most expensive item on the menu or to try something you’ve never had before. Play it safe and stick with an entrée that is easy to manage—stay away from meat or fish with bones and never order pasta or other potentially messy foods.

Is that bread and butter plate hers or yours? What about the water glass? Here’s a trick to figuring out which plates and glasses belong to you. Take both hands and join your thumbs and index fingers. Your right hand forms a “d” and your left hand forms a “b.” Drinks are on the right, and bread and butter plates are on the left. But, please, if you need this guide, reference it inconspicuously under the table. (Speaking of that bread, if there is a basket of bread or rolls, always pass it to the right, and you never spread your butter on the entire piece or tear your roll open and slather both sides. It may be efficient, but it’s wrong! Always break off a small piece of bread or roll and butter each piece. )

What about the forks? Which one when? Always start from the outside of your place setting and work your way in toward your plate, course by course.

And just because your mother won’t be there, let me fill in for her: Don’t slurp your soup; don’t tuck your napkin into your shirt or pants; don’t take medication at the table; don’t pick your teeth; don’t text or take a call. In fact, turn your phone off. Don’t apply make-up or ChapStick at the table. And, of course, don’t put your elbows on the table. The entire meal should be spent sharing your skills and knowledge and the reasons you are a good fit for the position. If you’re doing it right, you won’t even notice the food!

Spellbound

It’s a few days before Christmas, and Maria Tatar ’67 is trekking through the remnants of New England’s latest snowstorm and into the Harvard Book Store to show me “the network.”

The bookstore looks exactly like what you’d expect Harvard Book Store to look like, with its tall wooden ladders and hushed patrons in wool coats. Tatar, a professor of German literature at Harvard and an expert in fairy tales, stands in front of a table full of new releases that could broadly fit into the young adult category. She starts to peruse, and picks up a few, each either some version of a fairy tale or a modern permutation of a classic. In front of us is the latest book by Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series, whose Greek mythology-meets-children’s-adventure tales ascended The New York Times bestseller list and, in their eventual film forms, earned more than $400 million at the box office. A shelf over is a book called Rapunzel’s Revenge, a modernized graphic novel takeoff on the Grimms’ classic, whose cover shows the heroine in an Indiana Jones-like pose, brandishing her long braided red hair as a whip. Right next to it, another graphic novel, this one based on a classic Hungarian folk tale. On the shelves behind the table, there’s a book based on Peter Pan characters.

This is the network—a web of stories that have survived the journey from ancient fireside tales to today’s colorful stacks and digital pixels.

And the network is growing. Even if Tatar weren’t personally leading me through it, book by book, evidence of the fairy tale revival is impossible to miss. The week we meet, Disney’s Frozen—based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen—tops the box office. In the past two years, there have been several major motion picture remakes of fairy tales, notably Jack the Giant Slayer (based on “Jack and the Beanstalk”), Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (from “Hansel and Gretel”), and Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror, Mirror (both based on “Snow White”). On the small screen, the ABC series Once Upon a Time, in which doubles of famous fairy tale characters roam the real world, is now in its third season. Scarlet, a sci-fi take on “Little Red Riding Hood,” spent several weeks on The New York Times young adult bestseller list.

“I try to keep my finger on the fairy tale pulse,” Tatar says, looking at the shelves with a sigh. But the volume and velocity of the revival has simply become too much to track. Something very strong is pulling us back to the fire.

The Race to Slow It Down

For some years, Andy Carr ’57 says, things with his parents seemed normal. The couple had retired to Florida after long careers—he as a research chemist with DuPont and later with Imperial Chemical Industries, and she, with a master’s in education, as a teacher of handicapped children. Even when he visited from his home in California, he didn’t really observe anything out of the ordinary.

But at some point, Carr began noticing odd moments in his phone conversations with his mother, “things that didn’t make sense.” Small slip-ups. “She would call me and I would say ‘How’re you doing?’ and she would say ‘Fine—how’re things in Cutler?’ Now, Cutler is the town in southern Ohio where she was born and raised, and I had not been there at all in many, many years,” he said. “I would say, ‘well, I’m in California,’ and she would say, ‘Oh, of course you’re in California.’”

Carr retired 16 years ago at age 62 after a successful career as a neurologist. He served in Vietnam—one of two physicians in his specialty there, he says—and published a book about the experience, titled The 8th Field Hospital. When he returned, he practiced in a California hospital system, eventually becoming coordinating chief of eight facilities and an associate professor of neurology at UC-Irvine. He saw a lot of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients in his practice.

Still, it took some exceptional behavior for him to surmise that the changes in his mother’s behavior went beyond ordinary age-related memory loss and might be something more serious, like Alzheimer’s disease. Most unsettling were the 911 calls she began making. Once, when the police came and asked her what was the matter, she told them that she was scared because there was a woman in her bathroom that she didn’t know. When the police checked, they found it was Carr’s father. The police contacted Carr, who asked his mother why she thought her husband was a woman.

“She said, ‘Oh, you know how he looks like a woman sometimes?’” But he didn’t. Not long afterward, Carr’s father, who also was declining, went into a nursing home. At that point, his mother’s deterioration could no longer be hidden.

For groceries, she gave some neighbors a full book of checks, all signed, and told them to use them whenever they needed to shop for her. For two years, unbeknownst to Carr, a nearby relative had been handling the bills. Friends at the bank balanced her checkbook for her, though when Carr came to visit, and wanted to review her accounts, she could not help him find the bank. A giant pile of unopened mail on the dining room table made him realize that his plan to put his mother into assisted living in Florida was too late. It was time, Carr decided, to move his parents closer to him and his wife in California.

Alzheimer’s disease is generally acknowledged as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, though its position is likely underestimated due to its collateral damages. It often causes individuals to succumb to illnesses like pneumonia, or to stop eating and drinking, and those things will kill you. If you live to be 95, as it seems more and more people will, you have a 50 percent chance of developing Alzheimer’s.

In the United States alone, the proliferation of the disease has a daunting quality. Approximately 5.2 million people were afflicted in 2013, at an estimated cost to the nation of $203 billion. Experts expect that figure to rise to $1.2 trillion by 2050.

The global picture is even more grim, and it comes with sad ironies. As less developed nations slowly realize basic quality-of-life improvements, longevity in those areas will increase. And with longevity comes increased incidence of Alzheimer’s. Around 30 million have it worldwide today, according to the Alzheimer’s Association; by 2050, the number is expected to spike to 100 million. During that time frame, on the continent of Africa, incidence will rise 480 percent, a growth rate that puts it only in third place, behind Asia at 500 percent, and South America at 530 percent. The looming tide of Alzheimer’s and other dementias is rightly considered an epidemic of unprecedented scale.

Alzheimer’s can be definitively diagnosed only after the death of its victim. As is now widely known, its ravages appear as widespread plaques and tangles in the brain. And while the massive battles against cancer and HIV, for instance, have resulted in progress in treatment and prevention, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. No one would say with any conviction that there is even such a thing in sight.

Juan’s Story

There was a moment in Juan Bernabe’s high school career in which he just stopped. He stopped smiling. He stopped going out with friends. And most telling, he stopped dancing. Bernabe, you see, is always dancing. It was then that He stopped thinking about college, because college meant he would have to finish high school  and in all that stillness, finishing high school seemed unlikely.

Bernabe was 11 when his parents divorced, and he and his mother emigrated to Lawrence, Mass., in 2007. With a population of 77,000, Lawrence is more than three-quarters Latino. Most of the residents are of Caribbean descent from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The city—once a bustling mill town with textile factories among the largest in the world—had fallen on hard times. Today it is considered the poorest town in Massachusetts, with the highest crime and poverty rates in the state; last year, the state put its schools into receivership in an effort to turn around failing performance. But despite Lawrence’s reputation, Bernabe defends it as a vibrant and culturally dynamic place to live. As a child, he would walk to school along streets filled with busy bodegas and Caribbean restaurants, past the picturesque brick facades of the old mill buildings. Today, as a triple major at Denison, harboring hopes of medical school, he proudly points out the buildings where immigrant workers planned the Bread and Roses strike of 1913 that was instrumental in reforming U.S. labor laws.

Though he loved his city when he first arrived, school was different. Unlike his close-knit neighborhood, the Lawrence Public School system was massive— the high school alone housed 4,000 students, many of whom were American-born, and those who weren’t seemed to speak English with ease. Bernabe had always excelled in his studies back in the Dominican Republic, but when he entered seventh grade in America, he had to learn to excel in a new language. And it didn’t work.

“I was giving 150 percent, but it wasn’t good enough because I didn’t know English,” he says, sitting on the bed in his old room at home in Lawrence. “Even just having a conversation, I had to look up words in a dictionary.” In addition to the language barriers, Juan also had a secret—one that might cause trouble for him in the Latin male culture, often defined by its “machismo”: Bernabe is gay.

His mother, who herself had gone to college and worked in an agricultural bank in the Dominican Republic, worried for her son. “When he was younger, I never had to tell him to do his homework; now his love for school decreased because he didn’t know English,” she says. “I was really scared because everyone was saying bad things about Lawrence schools about gangs and drugs, but I put him in the hands of God to guide him through.”

Perhaps his mother’s prayers worked: The next year a teacher took him under her wing, taking Bernabe out of class along with a number of other students to tutor him in English and help him bring up his grades. Every day, she patiently took the group through the most basic English skills—conjugating verbs, explaining sentence structure— before eventually helping them read. With her guidance, Bernabe began applying himself again, and his language skills rapidly advanced. In 2009, he entered Lawrence High School as an English Language Learner, but had graduated from the program by the end of his freshman year. Bernabe had leapt past one of many hurdles facing Latino students in American schools and one the factors contributing to the Latino dropout crisis making its way across the country.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the dropout rate among Hispanics was 14 percent in 2011, higher than the rate for black students (7 percent) and white students (5 percent) combined. The reasons are varied: In addition to dealing with poverty and single-parent homes, many Latinos suffer problems with language, immigration status, and a cultural pressure to contribute financially to the family. And Bernabe’s additional burden, the fact that he was gay in a less-than-accepting environment, had the potential to pull him away from his education for good.

As a child, Bernabe had always been creative, favoring singing, dancing, and painting over sports. That didn’t go over well with his father in the Dominican Republic, where baseball is practically the national religion.

Even so, he did nothing to hide his personality, despite the fact that he didn’t fit in well with most of his male friends. But he didn’t tell them he was gay, a fact that he could barely admit to himself, though he had always known it to be true. Not only was Bernabe unprepared for the ridicule he would face from both male and female peers, he didn’t want to disappoint his family. His mother was a staunch Catholic, and he feared she would judge him for being gay. Given everything she had sacrificed to come to the United States for his education, he felt he couldn’t let her down.

“She used to ask me, ‘Why don’t you have a girlfriend?’And I used to go off on a tangent because I didn’t want to answer,” Bernabe says. “I wanted to be who I am, but I didn’t want to disappoint my mother. I wanted her to be proud of me.”

You Could Always Join the Circus

When I met with Edith Keme ’17 to talk about her experiences working with a youth circus, I didn’t expect to pick up any new skills myself. Photography intern Jenny Kim ’16 asked if she could snap some pictures to go along with this article, but Keme hesitated. “Will it just be me?”

Kim and I exchanged glances—that had been the plan.

“It’s just—no offense—but I don’t think it will mean very much if it’s just me,” she said. “I love to teach. Would it be all right if we got some photos of me teaching you how to juggle?”

I’m not particularly coordinated (and I was dressed like a lumberjack). Still, I’ve always dreaded the strangely common icebreaker question, “What’s your secret talent?” because, well, I don’t have one. How cool would it be if next time I could answer by grabbing whatever happened to be on hand —balls, books, chainsaws—and started juggling?

We stood side by side and started off with two balls: each of us was tossing one ball into the air and catching the other. This isn’t so bad, I thought. For a brief moment, I saw flying flaming torches in my future, but then we added the third ball, which proved disastrous for my limited hand-eye coordination, and suddenly brightly colored balls began hitting the snow one by one. “It’s okay,” Keme said with a laugh. “It took me about four months to juggle three balls, but my older brother got it in five minutes, so it depends on the person. My maximum is four balls, and I’ve been working on five for the past five years.” Her older brother juggles seven.

Although she has come to prefer clowning and walking tightwire, juggling was what first got Keme interested in the circus. Keme moved to the U.S. from Togo in 2001. Two years later, she and her brothers were outside riding their bikes when they met a man in full clown costume who stopped to perform for them. He turned out to be the founder of a youth circus, CircEsteem, and invited her older brother to join. Before long, it was a family affair.

As she became more involved, Keme discovered that she naturally wanted to help newcomers learn the ropes. From firsthand experience, I can vouch for her teaching abilities— and her dogged patience.

Unfortunately, Keme hasn’t had many circus opportunities in Granville, but she isn’t going to let that stop her. Early this year, while getting to know some of her fellow Curtis East residents, she discovered that another student had attended the same circus camp she had, although their paths had never crossed. Together, they’re trying to start a circus club at Denison.

In the meantime, she believes that tightwire and juggling have helped her maintain balance in other areas of life at Denison. “What I was able to take from circus is a sense of confidence and certainty that comes from practice, training, performances, and teaching. I think that shows in everything I do. I tend to persevere.”

As for me, I’ve got some work to do.

In Memory of David Hallman ’14

The Denison community gathered in Swasey on Feb. 8 at 11:30 p.m. upon hearing the news that the body of David Hallman ’14 had been found in Granville after a day of searching for the 21-year-old from Erie, Pa. “This is tragic,” President Adam Weinberg told the students. “The strength of our community lies in how we come together in times like these. We are strong in moments of joy and celebration, but we are also strong in moments of sorrow and loss. Tonight we all need to be there for each other.” Counselors immediately were made available for students.
Hallman had last been seen leaving Brews Café around 2 a.m. When his family and friends hadn’t heard from him, his father called the Granville Police, who notified Denison, and both GPD and the college launched searches. Hallman’s body was found that night, east of the village, outside a development about a half mile from campus.
At press time, authorities believed that the cause of death was hypothermia. We remember David Hallman: A senior majoring in history and minoring in economics, and a friend to many. We continue to keep the Hallman family in our thoughts, and we encourage all who knew David to remember his unfaltering loyalty to friends and family and his ability to always make others smile.

When Work Takes Over

Laura Russell calls herself a “recovering workaholic.” The phrase might sound like a joke, were it not coming from someone whose research is dedicated to understanding the roots—and risks—of a real but overlooked addiction. She is inspired by a deceptively simple question: How many of us truly have a healthy relationship with our work?

An assistant professor in the Department of Communication, Russell says the distinction between those who love their work and those battling workaholism is compulsion: “There’s an absolute fear,” she says, “an inability to be okay with themselves if they’re not producing something.” And though it’s not purely an American problem, she says certain ingrained aspects of Western culture make it more prevalent here. There is the Puritan work ethic, and the pedestals on which we place the CEOs, football coaches, and others who famously get by on four or five hours of sleep each night; add in high unemployment and the 24/7-tether of tablets and smartphones, and it’s no wonder that, for many, any- thing less than overworking seems like not working enough.

“It’s in the rhythm of everything around us,” she says, “and we’re really not even questioning it.”

Russell is trying. In her work at Denison and as a member of the board of Workaholics Anonymous, she is poking at our unconscious assumptions. Is it natural, she asks, that humans should require a giant mug of caffeine to get moving in the morning and an energy “shot” in the early afternoon? She’s looking as well at the mental, emotion- al, and even chemical factors that turn work into compulsion. “It’s both a process addiction and a substance addiction,” she says. “You become addicted to certain habits, and then, for some people, replicating those habits does create a true adrenaline rush.”

The fallout? There are the obvious risks: broken marriages, resentful children, men and women who work until their hearts give out. Then there are those for whom all those nights of skimping on sleep eventually leads to careless mistakes on the job, or who commit to one too many projects and simply can’t keep up. Russell isn’t optimistic about reversing all this. “There isn’t a cure-all, and I think it’s going to get harder,” she says. “The more we value productivity and efficiency, and develop products that make us superhuman, the more we devalue what makes us human.”

From the Archives

The pale gentleman stares like an apparition from behind a pane of glass, sealed in a protective hinged case, inside an acid-free envelope, inside an archival box, within the controlled climate of the seventh floor of Doane Library. Even with so many safeguards, this early Denison alumnus identified as Jacob Bartholomew, Class of 1842, is gradually eroding behind a fog of pox and corrosion.

Daguerreotypes like this one came into general use after 1839—about the time Mr. Bartholomew would have been starting his education at the Granville Literary and Theological Institution (later Denison). Across the Atlantic, Louis Daguerre had made it commercially feasible to capture a photo- graphic image for the first time. The French government provided the inventor with a comfort- able pension and then made a gift of his process, without patent or license, to the rest of the world.

Anyone wanting to invest in an instruction manual and equipment could set up shop and make money, and many did—portrait studios and itinerant photographers sprouted across Europe and then America. By 1842, the year Bartholomew received his artium baccalaureus degree with the three other young men in the school’s third graduating class, one could have one’s “phiz” immortalized on a small rectangle of silver-coated copper for the equivalent of $2 to $5 in today’s currency. Portraits were no longer a privilege of the wealthy but were affordable to the many who clamored to be “taken.”

The reflective, jewel-like quality of the polished silver behind the daguerreotypes encouraged the idea that they were “mirrors of truth,” thought to reveal the souls of the sitters. Bartholomew’s char- acter is hard to read, but it might include a weak- ness for get-rich-quick schemes—we know he married an Ohio girl, Emily, who followed him to the 1849 Gold Rush territory in northern California, where he died in 1863.

The piece of glass fitted over his image was meant to protect the sensitive silver from tar- nishing air or touch, but glass from that era could be unstable. Bubbles formed and expelled caustic gases, corroding both the glass and the image below it. Jacob Bartholomew gazes through this spattered windowpane, slowly being undone by the thing meant to ensure his immortality.

Unscramble This

The uncertainty principle, a fundamental concept of quantum mechanics, states that the more precisely one determines the position of a subatomic particle, the less precisely one can determine its momentum. Werner Heisenberg figured out that one in the 1920s, and physicists since have grappled with the conundrum: that the very act of observing a particle impacts the particle being observed. In this challenge, Steve Olmschenk sees an opportunity.

An assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Olmschenk heads up the College’s Ion Quantum Optics Group, which is researching new applications for quantum information. One aspect of that research—one the U.S. Army Research Office last year deemed worthy of a Young Investigator grant—focuses on the potential for stor- ing information at the atomic level. Within that massive leap from classic information—the flow of binary data of ones and zeroes that defines our current digital world—lies a solution that could transform the way data are protected.

“Quantum mechanics has told us that if we get to a really small scale, dealing with things the size of atoms, things are allowed to be in two states at once. If we can store information in an atom, we could store it as a zero or one, or as some combination: zero plus one, or zero minus one,” Olmschenk explains.

Confused? That’s (sort of) the point. The idea is that by integrating, say, a single trapped atomic ion with a single photon of light, as Olmschenk’s lab is attempting, it would be possible to store and transmit sensitive information on the photon; if some snooping foe tried to intercept that information, the photon would bear irrefutable physical proof of the attempt. As Heisenberg understood, the act of observing will leave a telltale trace on the particle being observed. “You’ll know if someone looked at it along the way,” Olmschenk says. “It’s really a new way to think about encryption.”

That’s only one narrow application of expanding research in the field of quantum information, which Olmschenk says boasts vast potential for new knowledge. “The general idea with quantum information is, it’s all there; the hard part is implementing it in the lab,” he says. “It’s allowing us to probe things that were predicted by quantum mechanisms to exist, but that we didn’t have any way to measure. That’s a beautiful thing.”

Surviving Mauthausen

They drove through the unmanned gate, beneath the Reichsadler—the Nazi imperial eagle—and into an incomprehensible landscape of hell. More than half a century after Colonel Richard Seibel and 600 American soldiers under his command entered the Mauthausen concentration camp, he remembered the stench. It was May 5, 1945. Hundreds of dead bodies were stacked in the open air like cords of wood; prisoners who had committed suicide by throwing themselves against the electrified fences hung like contorted spiders against the barbed wire. SS troops had abandoned the camp shortly before Seibel’s arrival, leaving the remaining 18,000 or so emaciated and ill prisoners without food, water, or power. Some continued to die of starvation and disease, but Col. Seibel and the U.S. troops worked for weeks to save the living and get them strong enough to return to their home countries.

The Mauthausen camp had a nickname during the war: Knochenmühle—the bone-grinder. It was the scene of some of the worst atrocities within the Nazis’ extensive system of extermination-by-labor and medical experimentation. Primarily to punish the intelligentsia—the “Incorrigible Political Enemies of the Reich”—the camp was established on the site of an Austrian granite quarry that had supplied the stones used to build the streets of Vienna, and with wartime slave labor to build monuments to the Third Reich. The fate of many prisoners was the notorious “186 steps of death,” a steep stone stairway from the base of the quarry, which they were forced to climb while saddled with 150- pound blocks of granite strapped to their backs. Those who faltered were shot in the back of the head or were allowed to fall backward, creating a gruesome domino effect of fallen, broken bodies down the bloody stairs. Guards also were known to stand prisoners in a single-file line at the top of the steep quarry pit, and force the second in line to push the person standing at the edge to a precipitous death before stepping up to the edge himself.

Samantha Seibel ’17 didn’t hear the stories about Mauthausen until she was a teenager. Her grandfather died when she was 4, and she remembers him fondly, but the history of his role in liberating the concentration camp came to her over time, through her father, Peter. In her first semester at Denison last fall, Samantha signed up for a first-year semi- nar, “Genocide in the 20th Century.” She felt a personal connection because of her grandfather’s story, and she also knew she had a lot to learn about the subject. The course was being taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of German Eva Revesz,who asked her students in an early assignment to write an essay about what interested them in such a weighty topic.

Revesz was reading these papers when she came to Seibel’s, which outlined her grandfather’s history as a soldier and his role in liberating Mauthausen, and she remembers reaching for the phone in astonishment even before she had finished reading Seibel’s account. Revesz’s father had been a prisoner at Mauthausen, and was among those found alive by the Americans more than 68 years ago. Now an emeritus professor at Wayne State University, he listened to his daughter’s story with the composure of a man who has learned to meet atrocities and miracles with equanimity.

Andrew Reeves (he changed his name from Revesz when he emigrated to America) lived in Nazi-occupied Budapest as a teenager, and witnessed the everyday anti-Semitism in Hungary metastasize into government policy. One by one, opportunities closed to Jews, and preposterous laws made daily life more and more impossible. Still, the young Reeves dismissed the rumors of extermination and gas chambers. “Germany was the nation of Goethe and Beethoven—such savagery was unimaginable,” he later would say.

He eventually was arrested and sent to a work camp in 1944, and a year later he was moved to Mauthausen, where conditions were so appalling that the 20-year-old Reeves, already starving, saw no reason to expect he would survive. He and others were soon marched to Gunskirchen, one of many Mauthausen subcamps, and it was there that the emaciated Reeves stood at the gate to see the first advance patrol of Americans. He didn’t know at first if the soldiers in the jeep had come to save him or shoot him, but he saw their expressions of shock at his condition. “Before that first jeep pulled away,” Reeves recalled, “I asked them for food.” The soldiers rummaged in their vehicle and pockets and came up with a few saltine crackers and a can of condensed milk. “That can of milk was the best-tasting thing I had eaten in the entire past year.” The soldiers told him, “Don’t worry— things are going to get better from now on.”

Out of gratitude, while still at Mauthausen, the former prisoners presented Col. Seibel with an American flag they had cobbled together. It was made, as he described it, “from scraps of clothing and anything else they could find that was red, white, and blue.” There were 56 stars. “They didn’t know how many states were in the United States. I immediately flew that flag over the camp, the first American flag to fly over Mauthausen.”

Among the Mauthausen prisoners liberated that spring of 1945 was Simon Wiesenthal, who became well known as a Nazi-hunter and author. The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, established to support Jewish rights worldwide, was named in recognition of his work. Samantha Seibel’s family donated her grandfather’s American flag to the Center, where it is now in the collection.

At the age of 90, in 1998, Colonel Richard Seibel spoke to the graduating class of Defiance College as he was pre- sented with an honorary degree. “You have in your future the chance to make a difference in our quality of life, in the tolerance and respect we show for others, and the examples we set for our children. There is a beauty and balance in our diversity. Every act of intolerance or hatred based solely on race, heritage, gender, religion, poverty, wealth, disability, or otherwise, is like a miniature Mauthausen. Do not allow these daily concentration camps to exist. Liberate your minds, your values, even if you don’t agree. Be kind. Be tolerant. It is not in some grand war that you will bring peace on earth, but in your daily lives with singular acts of kindness.”

Talk of the Walk

2014: The Year of the Zombie

On New Year’s Eve, my 6-year-old son saw 15 seconds of The Walking Dead, the grotesquely violent zombie series. At the neighbor’s annual gathering, he and his buddies were watching Despicable Me 2—the much more age-appropriate movie starring a reluctant dad, Gru, voiced by Steve Carell ’84. When the movie ended, they had innocently stopped the disc and turned on the TV only to see a woman breaking the legs of chickens and tossing them into a barn filled with the ravenous undead. Sam wandered in to tell the adults that zombies had taken over the TV. We turned it off, and I thought that was the end of the trauma. But after the ball had dropped, and we headed off to bed, he started screaming, violently—the kind of scream that sends chills up a parent’s spine.

As I ran up the stairs two by two, he ran toward them and me, his eyes wide. And in that moment, I knew he had lost a little bit of innocence, and his world had now opened up to include chickens thrashing about in a barn, unable to fly away from their predators.

I curled up with him that night, but my husband and I had decided early on not to let him milk this. The quicker he got back to his routine, we figured, the quicker those images of zombies would fade away. Let’s just wrap this whole thing up fast, we thought, before it gets out of control.

But every night was the same. Just the mention of bedtime for this little boy would send him into a panic. He talked about zombies while brushing his teeth and through the door of the bathroom when he needed privacy. He talked about zombies while peeling off his clothes and stepping into his pajamas. He talked about them while choosing his bedtime book and while crawling into bed. To combat the fear, my husband and I tried everything. We showed him a video of a make-up artist creating a zombie out of a regular Joe. We talked to him about the zombies and suggested he dress them up in tutus in his mind to make them funny. We even played the children’s board game, “Hi Ho! Cherry-O,” with an imaginary friend (our conjuring) named “Chicken Zombie” to make the zombies seem less threatening.

CZ won, of course.

In the daylight, Sam would laugh at these ideas, and I thought for a brief period that Chicken Zombie might be a new family member, but by nightfall, the zombies took to their evil ways, invading Sam’s brain and threatening to devour the poor boy. We worked hard to force adult rationale into his mind: “Do you have any idea how many zombies live on planet Earth? Zero.” “Do you honestly think we would ever put you in a dangerous situation?” “The dogs bark when one of us changes our shirt, don’t you think they would let us know if a zombie were in the house? Seriously. Think about that for a second.”

In the end, nothing worked except crawling into bed with Sam and holding his hand until he went to sleep or, when he was feeling really brave, sitting in a chair near his bed and staring at him—begging, pleading for him to drift off so we could slip down the hall to watch House of Cards or check Facebook before bed. Impatient, I would roll off his bed every few minutes with little to no grace and wake him. Or I would stand up from the chair, which would elicit a terrible creak, and he would reach for me.

One night, sometime around Day 13 post-Walking Dead (this is how we define our lives these days), I was sitting in his dark room just looking at him curled up beneath a quilt made of his grandfather’s old work shirts (for protection, of course). It occurred to me that my frustration was not with Sam, or the Walking Dead, or the geniuses who decided to run a Walking Dead marathon in prime time on New Year’s Eve. It was because I had things to do—laundry to fold, articles to write, emails to answer, a House of Cards cliffhanger to solve. I was wishing my son to sleep—or sneaking off early after promising to stay until he was safely in dreamland—not because I thought it would help him, but because I thought I needed the time for things that could wait.

As I sat in his room that night, I regretted every way I had handled the great zombie attack of 2014. Had I just slowed down, and crawled into bed with the child for a few nights, it wouldn’t have grown into the Zombie Apocalypse. I decided to slow down right then. I looked at him for a long time, curled up in his Pap’s blanket of shirts. I listened to the rain fall against the windows and the dogs snoring down the hall. And I thought maybe those zombies made an appearance in 2014 for a good reason. They’ve reminded us to slow down this year and to comfort those who need us most.

I vowed to thank Chicken Zombie when I saw him next.

Maureen Harmon, editor

Big Red Fall on the Hill

Denison’s varsity sports teams defeated every opponent who came before them in Granville during Big Red Weekend in October. Men’s soccer downed Hiram by a 2–1 score, and women’s soccer beat the Terriers, 3–1. The DU field hockey squad defeated conference foe Ohio Wesleyan, 2–1, in Piper Stadium, and volleyball swept NCAC opponent Allegheny, 3–0, in Livingston Gym. And the Big Red football team overcame a seven-point halftime deficit to triumph over DePauw, 42–21.

But the weekend, which saw more than 1,000 guests on campus, was made up of much more than sports events. The Denison Homestead dedicated the new cabin that was built during the summer; student singing group DU-Wop belted out Adele’s “Rumor Has It” during the traditional student a cappella concert in Swasey; the Black Alumni Association and the swimming and diving teams held their annual reunions; the Varsity D Association Hall of Fame inducted seven new members; and students showed off their Denison digs to parents, alumni, brothers, sisters, and the occasional family dog. For more photos from the weekend, visit TheDEN and Denison’s home on Flickr.