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I had an inspiring conversation this summer with Mary Frances Giacolone, Manager of the Fullerton College Bookstore, about my experiences at FJC in the early 1960s, and she encouraged me to write you my FJC testimonial to help honor the Centennial Celebration of the college. I now live in Boston and was visiting the campus this summer with my wife, Margot Tanz, an FJC alumna and member of the 1965-66 swim team. I have found this testimonial to be a labor of love and deep respect for a (blue and) golden era in my life. A time which now, from a vantage point of more than 50 years, takes on the semblance more and more of the sacred, so transformational was my life because of FJC. This is from the heart.
It has been a challenge to control the emotions now that I have begun to write about the effects of FJC upon my life. I can now better understand what the concepts of nurture and alma mater mean. The more I trace back my memories, the more in awe I become at the impact of the teachers, the coaches, and the many fellow students—not only just great people in themselves, but also great souls—who played such a major foundational role in sculpting me to become who I am today.
Since memory is the means by which we may continually try to re-grasp the poignant moments of the past, I cannot help but remember my most influential FJC teacher, Miriam Cox. She first instructed me in Greek mythology class about Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, who gave birth to the Muses, the inspirational goddesses of all learning, who celebrated the arts and sciences especially through song or music. With this in mind, I sense that many of my FJC memories seem to touch upon the realm of music, evoking a confluence of sweet melody and rhythm lying latent within my soul. These memories represent a major part of the college’s legacy to me, a legacy that I find is always with me, and I wish to share that legacy with you.
As I reflect upon my FJC past today, these are my answers, together with some contemplative thoughts, to your questions about my experiences at FJC in the early 1960s.
The steep incline of the Chapman Avenue entrance steps to the campus, like the propylaea or gateway to the Athenian Acropolis, seemed to be a metaphor for the ascension to a higher level of awareness of one’s humanity through education. Once the steps were ascended, you found yourself looking out upon a verdant, tree-lined (magnolias) quad crisscrossed by countless students, most perhaps still unaware, as I certainly was, of the great adventures to be pursued and lying before them in various classrooms, potential gateways to one’s inner self, where, as Socrates tells us in the Theaetetus, resides knowledge or wisdom—you just have to seek it out, and eventually perhaps find that you are your own best teacher.
At the far northwestern end of the quad stood the image of that which symbolically united us: the geometric blue and gold hornet, raised aloft as if in flight, reinforcing the image of ascension we had as we entered the campus via the Chapman Avenue staircase.
At the southwestern end of the quad is the area, under a magnolia tree, where I still pause silently for awhile, remembering when I stood there in a small circle of classmates as we heard the announcement of President Kennedy’s assassination. An announcement that seemed to darken the bright sunshine of the late November morning. For many reasons, a somberly sacred space for me even today.
The more I think about it, the more my visits to the FJC campus essentially are yearly pilgrimages to honor important way stations of my life’s journey up to the present moment, always engendering thoughts of past, present, and future; but above all, appreciating the moment at hand, and how precious it is.
Having commented on my memories of the physical aspects of the campus, I now turn to the philosophical and intellectual, inspirational and spiritual. The teacher who most inspired me, who most transformed my life, who most made me aware of the noble heights to which the human soul could ascend, was Miriam Cox. Her academic discipline was English, but she really taught her students the foundational thought of great minds, East and West. I occasionally relay to my students elements from such ancient texts, which Mrs. Cox had instructed to us, as the Gilgamesh, the Enuma Elish, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Shah-nama. Each text a marvelous exemplum of humanist thought and guidance for each of us to determine what it means to be a human being. I also still possess my voluminous notes from her classes of 50 years ago, and I consider them a highly valued heirloom from my past. As a teacher of the classical languages and literatures now, I at times consult those notes for inspiration and share them with my students. I love doing this because it shows the students a practical example of a major concept I am trying to make clear to them: continuity of past to present: the interconnectedness that exists between each of us, even from the beginning of time until the present moment. We are only who we are because of those who have come before us. Hopefully we can learn from our own human past and strive to live our lives more richly, to make this world a happier, more unified place for all.
Because of Professor Cox’s passion for Greek mythology, I was inspired to study Greek language and civilization in more depth. Today I am a teacher of ancient Greek, even conducting classes in Greece at archaeological and historical sites. As a result of my passion for ancient Greek language and civilization, the international Hellenic Society Paideia, whose center is at the University of Connecticut, arranged for me to be awarded honorary Greek citizenship at Delphi, the ancient spiritual sanctuary of the Oracle to Apollo, one of the major deities about whom Professor Cox often elaborated. I like to think that this honorary citizenship belongs as much to Professor Cox as to me.
Other inspirational people and moments at FJC centered on the Athletic Department. As a Team Student Manager for football and basketball, I was taught many lifelong social lessons, including the value of teamwork or collaboration, and individual responsibility (i.e., remember, there are always people who need you, who are depending on you) through the efforts of an amazing athletics personnel: coaches Hal Sherbeck, Al Feola, Marv Sampson, Joe DeLuca, Claude Retherford, Tom Tellez, and trainer Bill Chambers. What stands out in my mind is that they, along with so many of the talented athletes, all exhibiting fine examples of outstanding character, including so many classmates such as Steve Joyner, Dennis Estes, Dan Cook, and John Pease in football; and Dick Wiethorn, Paul Ellsworth, Frank Lee, Ed Musolff, and Bill Walker in basketball, et al. All of these people made me understand that I was as important a member of the team as each one of them was. That’s democracy! That’s respect! That’s team concept! And, I share that experience with my students today to give them an insight as to what that Greek word demokratia, “democracy”, can mean. My deep appreciation goes out to fellow team manager Elmer Sabin, who had invited me to join the student manager team back in the summer of 1963. Additional spiritual guidance and camaraderie were provided to me through numerous members of the FJC Hornet Christian Fellowship, especially Chuck Baxter and John D’Sena, who provided admirable and unforgettable leadership to all members of our fellowship.
In summing up, the total impact of the inspiration of FJC upon me has come down to something like this: the College provided an educational experience that promoted the development of the whole person intellectually, physically, socially, and spiritually. All of the people and events I have mentioned above have helped to make me who I am. I carry all of them within my very being daily and can refer to them before my students whenever the opportunity arises for me to tell them of how I have become a teacher, and that I would not be standing before them, if it were not for these foundational people and events. I utilize such references to my past as a means of motivating my students to work collaboratively, to teach that we are collectively stronger because of the merits and value of each individual. In analogy, I have witnessed that the Boston Celtics cry out the word “Ubuntu” before they take the court for each game. This ancient African word symbolizes that the team cannot succeed without the collective efforts from each individual on the team. Similarly, I, as if I were a team goal, have been helped toward achieving success by the collective efforts of countless foundational people and events at FJC. One translation of the Bantu word “Ubuntu” is “I am because you are”. I feel strongly that I am who I am largely because of the altruistic, life-preparing training I received at FJC. I would not be the person I am if it were not, to a great degree, for you, FJC. And I in turn, to return the love, respect, and honor, wish to continue our human interconnectedness, from time immemorial until the present, by sharing my abilities with society to help make it a better place.
After graduating from FJC in 1964, I entered Cal State Fullerton and earned a B.A. in English. Desperately wanting to study classical Greek so I could read the Greek myths in the original language, I began my studies in Greek at nearby Biola College. Having discovered that I could major in the classics, the study of both Greek and Latin languages and literatures, at the University of California at Irvine, I entered that school in 1968 and eventually earned my second B.A. in the Classics. Then I did graduate work, on scholarship, at Indiana University, where I also taught Latin, and Tufts University, earning a masters degree at Indiana. I currently am teaching Greek and Latin in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, after having taught for almost 30 years now at the secondary level. As I mentioned earlier, I also teach an intensive study abroad course in Homeric Greek for high school students each summer in Greece, sponsored by the Hellenic Society Paideia.
In 2002 I was awarded the Edward Phinney Greek Fellowship, administered by the Classical Association of New England, in order to add Greek to the Latin program at my high school. The Greek program begins its 11th year this fall and has grown to an enrollment of 40 students. I am also involved with the creation of an authentic open air Greek theatre, half-scale to the famous one at Epidaurus, Greece, at the University of Connecticut’s Hellenic Center. The theater is constructed totally in marble, much of which has come from Greece, and is the only example in the world of a Greek theater with a complete two-story stage. Twenty-five of my students will present, at the end of September, a choral dramatic performance at this theater, teaching the audience about the Greek alphabet and the origins of the mask in drama.
I hope to retire within the next year or two and then move on to what I hope can be the next chapter in my life. As I was first inspired at FJC, I in turn wish to continue inspiring others; therefore, I would like to return to graduate school to enhance my credentials for the teaching of Greek at the college level, perhaps then being able to begin a program at a college that has never offered this foundational study. Since ancient Greek thought and language are involved with the beginnings of so many core academic disciplines, I propose to teach Greek to every person, not alone just to the classics specialist, to enable a diverse group of students from all these disciplines to study primary source materials in the original Greek, in whatever discipline that is their passion or interest. I propose that Greek should be taught to everyone, because its foundational thought, the language itself, and the literary tradition that has arisen from it, should belong to everyone.
Cherish the moment. The only way you can grasp it again is through memory. Appreciate the people around you who are affecting you in constructive ways, for they, whether consciously or not, are sculpting you to become who you are. And, from the Iliad, aien aristeuein, “Always strive to excel”. Follow your heart, follow your passion, and get the best training for yourself as you can; then, share those excellent skills, that especially belong to you, with your society in order to strengthen it. In so doing, you strengthen yourself. Be in awe of each moment of your life, of the miracle that it is and you are; for life is a gift from the cosmos, perhaps from where we began, and to where we may return, hopefully to make even it a better place.
As Homer said, kata thumon, “from the heart”.