Brandon Stewart '08
The end of college is hectic time for everyone. There is just so much to do and so strong a desire to cram as many memories and final moments into the short amount of time that is left. And while many others at Wabash no doubt had much crazier end-of-the-year schedules, mine was hectic enough for me. As I mentioned in a previous post, I accepted a position at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a First Amendment watchdog group dedicated to protecting the expressive rights of students and faculty on campus. (For a short video which briefly explains FIRE's mission and some of our most notorious cases of the past year go here.)
Due to my start date, I decided to move out to Philadelphia the day after Commencement. It was a pretty surreal experience boarding that one-way plane for Philadelphia. It was weird to have to uproot the sense of home and familiarity that had grown up during my years at Wabash and trying to replant myself in a new city, in a new part of the country. I spent that first week setting up my apartment and getting adjusted to Philadelphia The next week, I started work and I've been occupied ever since.
The summer has been an unbelievably busy one. My position is working on the Campus Freedom Network, FIRE's new grassroots college outreach division. I hit the ground running in May and spent most of my first few weeks preparing for our first annual student conference in downtown Philadelphia. We hosted roughly 50 college students from all across the United States in a three day, two night conference and spent the time discussing and debating topics ranging from philosophical importance of liberty on campus, tutelage on the practical legal concepts and some time about strategies for making their campuses friendlier to free speech. Throughout the conference, students heard from FIRE staffers and noted free speech scholars such as FIRE Co-Founder Harvey Silverglate, Senior Counsel Steve Aden of the Alliance Defense Fund, Stanford Law Professor Derek Shaffer and Professor of Brooklyn College and author KC Johnson.
The summer is typically a time where employees catch up on their work and get important long-term projects accomplished. I have to admit to being both apprehensive and excited at seeing how we can get much more busy than we already are.
There have been a number of highlights of the summer, but perhaps notable was when we helped put to rest a case at IUPUI where a student was initially accused of racial harassment by the college's Affirmative Action Office for reading a book. Never mind that the book was Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan, a story with an inspiring and decidedly anti-racist message. We have also kept up our pressure at Colorado College and Brandeis University. Those interested can read about those incredible stories here and here. And as we head into the school year, the office is currently celebrating DeJohn vs. Temple University a major victory for free speech out of the Third Circuit.
I often felt in my first month like I didn't have time to breathe since I was so busy moving in, learning my job and generally trying to get adjusted to a new life. That said, I had the opportunity to come up for air such as it was in late June when one of my pledge brothers, Nick Lyons '08 got married. It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate their happy day and a great excuse only a few weeks out of school to get everyone back together. As you can see from the picture, the entire pledge class made it back, with some traveling as far as Texas and (ahem) Philadelphia. It was so great to see everyone because although technology makes it so much easier to stay in touch, there is nothing quite like hanging out with good, familiar friends in person. I am already looking forward to my next visit back to Indiana. I'll be back in October for another wedding and, of course, the 2008 Monon Bell game where Wabash will reclaim the bell from the school down south. While we've appreciated them holding on to it for us, we will need it back come November.
Fourth of July was an exciting time to be in Philadelphia. It was especially great to have the opportunity to spend the weekend with a friend who graduated this May from Purdue, one of her coworkers, and Lincoln Smith '08. Lincoln is currently pursuing the MD/PhD program at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Princeton. It was nice to hang out with familiar friends during my first holiday in a new town.
Among the most eventful events for me so far this summer happened at 5AM on a Monday morning when I woke to the sound of the apartment's fire alarms blaring. To be honest, my initial thought was that I was back at the Beta house and someone had pulled the fire alarm. That misconception, thankfully, was fleeting and I quickly got dressed, gathered up my wallet, phone and keys and headed down the stairs. I'm on the eleventh floor, which is great for insulating yourself from the noise of downtown Philadelphia, but (unsurprisingly) can be quite a haul when you have to rush down the stairs at the crack of dawn. I was only able to make down to the third floor before I was caught up by residents shuffling back up the stairs yelling "Fire!" Thankfully we were able to make it down the fire escape without any problems and the fire department came quickly thereafter. Ironically, the shirt I threw on in my blurry-eyed shuffle was one for work with the FIRE logo emblazoned on front. That earned me a few suspicious stares from some residents no doubt wondering in passing whether I might be a particularly shameless arsonist.
Unfortunately the day continued on a downward spiral when, at 7AM, there was still no word about when we would be able to return to the apartment. Apparently the elevators in the lobby had caught on fire and had been gushing out flames into the stairs on the second and third floors. No one from the management company to the fire marshal was able to give this blurry-eyed Wally a specific timeframe. I decide to just head over to work early and since we didn't get the "all clear" until 5PM, I ended up spending the whole day in a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops. Not exactly how I would prefer to spend a day at work.
Although the fire probably wins for the craziest part of my summer, the most random by far came a few weeks later when I met a girl who not only knew of Wabash (and Indiana – a double threat!) but had several family members who attended Wabash. I had gone to see the new Batman movie with a group from church and we had gone out afterwards. During the conversation, the fact that I had moved from Indiana came up and after a few rounds of questions, I discovered that this woman had a Wabash connection of her own. It turns out that the young lady was the daughter of John C. Schroeder '69, whose son Scott is featured on the Wabash website as part of the "39 under 39" series. A pretty amazing coincidence I thought.
These last few weeks have not slowed down much although I feel very much "at home" in my new life and am looking forward to the start of the school year, and accordingly, the start to a number of exciting projects at work. Just as boarding that one-way flight to Philadelphia was a considerable mile marker, I fully expect these next few weeks to be similarly strange as everyone at Wabash goes back to school – minus my classmates and me. Although different, I am as excited as I was a few months ago about discovering what lies ahead and meeting those new adventures head on.