Earlier this winter, 48 years and one week after my younger brother Dennis died from injuries sustained in a car accident, my two siblings and I, along with our families, made a memorable trek to north Missouri. It began as a journey. It turned into a pilgrimage. Something holy took place. It was life-giving, emerging out of tragedy and loss.
After our father died in 2015, my older brother began to wonder. Why not provide a transformational gift to Albany High, in memory of our parents and brother, giving back to the school and community which gave us such a great start in life?
Through many months of brainstorming, careful planning and lots of conversations with school faculty and administration, a plan was hatched. A classroom would be renovated and equipped for Makerspace, an innovative approach to hands-on learning. This new model provides creative ways for students to design, experiment, build and invent, as they engage in science, engineering and tinkering.
What a perfect way to honor the memory of our parents, who were deeply committed to education. And what a fitting way to remember our brother Dennis, who loved to tinker. As a 9-year-old, he had designed an automatic transmission out of an Erector Set (a 1960s forerunner to Legos, using metal beams, nuts, bolts and gears, along with levers and wheels).
On that cold February afternoon, the school invited our family to a wonderful dedication of the new space. Imagine our delight as we watched a student-created robot cut the ceremonial ribbon to Makerspace. In the corner of the room, a young man was using a 3-D printer. We also watched a student-produced video, using their new blue screen technology.
If you are a teacher, you know that feeling when your students are engaged. Light bulbs are coming on inside those precious minds. The energy in that room was palpable. Our hearts were full — in fact, so full, that it took me several days to process it all. Later, I journaled some observations;
- Giving is transformational, both to those who give and to those who receive. With tears in their eyes, teachers told us how the space was impacting lives. In one case, an at-risk student came alive to learning when introduced to the 3-D printer. Instead of barely hanging on at school, he is now looking at a summer internship at a local factory.
- When we use our imaginations, our grief and loss have the potential to become the silent, fertile seedbed for redemptive, life-giving deeds. Something deep inside the human spirit longs to know that our loved ones’ time on this earth mattered, that something tangible lives on because of them. Psychologist Erik Erikson named the final developmental stage of life — generativity, creating those things which outlive us.
- Reconnecting with our roots is nourishing. In those school halls, I once asked my someday-to-be-my-wife to go out with me on our first date. In that classroom, Mrs. Miller taught me to love great literature and to write cogent sentences. Over there, Mr. Moyer taught me how to solve geometry problems. In the gym, I made a campaign speech in our school’s 1968 mock presidential election (my candidate, Hubert Humphrey, won the school election but lost the national one). This community provided us with our worldview, our friends and our first tastes of leadership.
The morning after the dedication of Makerspace, I was trying to absorb all of this. My morning Bible reading included Psalm 87: “The LORD records, as he registers the peoples, ‘This one was born there.’ Singers and dancers alike say, ‘All my springs are in you.’”
Home is nice. And yes, you can go home again.