Jim Amidon — In his Chapel talk Thursday, my friend and colleague Howard Hewitt discussed the events, people, and cultural phenomena that shaped his life and career. Paying particular attention to the explosion of change in the 1960s, Hewitt shared lessons he has learned that have relevance today.
“I’ve learned that the big things aren’t that tough,” he said. “The answer is usually ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ But the little things — and there are many of them every day — define you.”
Listen to the audio podcast of Hewitt’s talk.
He went on to tell stories of the wisdom he’s gained in the various phases of his life, from an eager college journalism student in the emerging days of Watergate through his career as a newspaper writer, editor, and publisher leading up to his arrival at Wabash as director of new media over three years ago.
“I’ve met some great Wabash men over the past three and a half years. They all seem to be surprisingly good with the little things,” Hewitt said.
To help put the sixties in perspective for the audience of students born in the late 1980s, Hewitt started with the Beatles and Robert Kennedy. He noted that the Beatles, 30 years after their last recording session, had the number one-selling CD in the United States in 2001 when “Beatles 1” sold 30 million copies.
Giving the students critical thinking advice, he quoted Kennedy, whom he described as “an inspirational political figure” who “gave hope to many who had little hope.”
“‘There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream things that never were… and ask why not?’”
Hewitt also silenced the audience when he told a story of the day the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan spoke in his Ball State University class “A Colloquium on Violence.” He said seven or eight African American students had come to the class after it had started and had to stand in the back. The Grand Dragon acknowledged the students by saying, “Oh, that’s okay, you boys don’t have to stand in my presence.”
You could hear a pin drop in the Chapel at that moment.
“Growing up in very white, rural, southern Indiana, I had never witnessed anything like that,” said Hewitt.
“It was a day in college that I’ll never forget.”
Hewitt also referenced the work he’s done at Wabash for nearly four years, and recalled interviews he had with Rhodes Scholar Jeremy Robinson ’04 (while he was teaching in Chicago’s Harper High School) and alumnus John Pence ’57. Pence, he noted, has enjoyed a career spanning service in the Navy, working with Lady Bird Johnson in the White House, and leading the revival of American Realism painting as a San Francisco art gallery owner. Hewitt also said Pence, who is a gay, has been the brunt of off-color jokes at College functions.
“Think how many times in the last week you’ve heard ‘that’s so gay?‘ …It is past the time that word is put to rest. Who are you offending? What impact will it have on their lives?”
Hewitt ended his talk on an optimistic note, suggesting that America is, perhaps, on the verge of a decade of great change on the scale of the economic boom of the 1940s and the social changes off the 1960s.
“I really think it’s about to happen again,” he said. “Just look at the presidential race. The democrats had a Hispanic, a woman, and an African American in the race. For someone my age, that is astounding.
“Are we on the cusp of significant change after decades of stalemate on all the big issues? And if we are, how will you play a part in it? …Will you be a Wabash man who ‘wonders why or dreams and asks why not?’”