December 17, 2003
"I want to know what is worth passing on to the next generations."
Wabash Magazine cover photographer Denis Kelly ’84 was a student in the New York Arts Program in 1983 when a gallery director viewing the Wabash junior’s work asked, "What do you want to get out of the art world?"
The impulse behind Kelly’s response—"I want to know what is worth passing on to the next generations"—has driven his work, whether he’s been photographing cultures on the verge of extinction in Guatemala and Peru, or the sacred spaces of western Ireland and Japan.
A logical extension of that urge focuses the articles and essays in this WM.
The dictionary defines "legacy" as "anything handed down from one generation to another," worthy or not. In "The Footlocker," this issue’s A Man’s Life, Gulf War veteran Joel Turnipseed struggles with the unwanted legacy of conflict. Tom Campbell’s essay, "Grandma," takes an unflinching look at aging, a bequest we all inherit. Kyle Nickel’s "Losing Ground" in End Notes comes to terms with a family’s heritage uprooted by suburban sprawl.
But the desire to mature from recipient to giver—to hand down something worthy—weaves this issue together. Psychoanalyst Erik Erickson called it "generativity"—that seventh stage of human development during which our attention turns to the well being of future generations: the sense that "I am what survives me."
Typically, men enter the stage in their 30s and 40s, but generativity has no age requirement. I got a late start on it myself, so I’m chastened when I write about a student like Walter Keeley ’04, who founded the Wabash Reserve Firefighter program ("Works in Progress") and rewrote the department’s bylaws to make sure the next group of students could benefit from it as he did.
Dan Matusik ’04 and Aaron Flagg ’05 worked all summer to restore some of Indiana’s natural spaces ("Fields of Dreams"), but they’ve learned that "the work of stewardship is never done," so they plan to continue to work to "preserve the land for future generations."
No institution is more dependent than a college on generativity. From professors in the classroom and community to alumni funding buildings and learning opportunities, all believe there’s something worth passing along—that the future is something we create today. Students live in the light of that example. That’s one reason Keeley, Flagg, Matusik and dozens of others here aren’t as concerned about the future as they are eager to shape and nurture it.
It’s energizing yet humbling to tell the stories of these alumni and young men. The wonder of working in a place so dedicated to the future has yet to escape me. It’s one of those few jobs where, as years pass and the clock ticks more loudly, the sense of hope grows stronger.