I’ve mentioned before that although I moved to Mondoville in 2003, my family has deep roots in this part of the country, and even this part of the state. My dad was born in Greenwood, SC, about 35 miles from here, and his mother’s maiden name was Marietta Calhoun. Yep, those Calhouns — the evil genius of American politics was something like my seven-greats uncle. It didn’t do Dad (or me) much good either way — the last of whatever family fortune there was got squandered before Dad spent his teen years in the East Nashville projects, and before I was a toddler in an apartment over a drugstore, getting splinters in my feet from the floorboards. All the same, after Granny had moved back to Greenwood and my family would go down to visit, a maiden great-great-aunt was fond of emphasizing that “the boy [that would have been me] has Calhoun blood in his veins.” (At least once, Dad cheerfully added, “Yep, and Cherokee too!” Nearly gave the poor old woman apoplexy.) I grew up with a framed photo of a nuclear sub named for him; it decorated my bedroom wall.
But getting back to my however-many-greats uncle, the latest brouhaha at Yale has revolved around the fact that one of the University’s residential colleges is named for the late Veep. This has caused considerable upset to some students, who feel that this is a celebration of the institution of slavery that Calhoun defended. However, the university has decided to keep the name (reportedly under pressure from some old grads, who look back on their years in Calhoun Hall with fondness.) The current students are upset, and given their history of handling emotional setbacks with stoic aplomb, some sort of fireworks may ensue.
All this reminds me of a chapter from my own educational history. I did two years of college at Transylvania University (Slogan: “We had the name first, Stoker!”), which I attended on a full academic ride as part of the school’s efforts to raise its academic profile. When I was there, the scholarship was named for Thomas Jefferson — the 25 of us who received the scholarship in each class were colloquially known as the TJs. (That’s right, folks — once there was a college the size of Mondoville that brought in 25 new kids on full academic rides every year. More than 10% of the student body were there on full academic scholarships!)
Alas, I lost mine in my second year when my GPA fell below a 3.5, and I had to pursue my education elsewhere. About a year or so later, I heard from a former classmate that the scholarship had been renamed to honor its principal benefactor. (Admittedly, these days the original name would be a problem for some people as well, but hey — go please the world.) I was informed that the kids who had entered as TJs were miffed, and insisted on using the old handle. I was back in Northern Kentucky, attending the local directional school and working in customer service at Sears. My reply to my friend was simple: “Are they still taking the money?”
Likewise, I have some advice for the kids at Yale. If you’re at Yale, we might reasonably expect you to be admissible at quite a number of other educational institutions. Perhaps you might find one of them more suitable. But if you believe that Yale is a place from which you receive sufficient benefit, maybe you could deign to overlook the fact that we no longer agree with some of the university’s better-known alumni. You know — it’s called tolerance.