My mother worked as a riveter sewing sheet metal to plane wings in a defense plant on Long Island during the big war. Countless others did too. My in-laws worked at Grumman on Long Island for a combined total of 60 years. They retired 20 years ago. They revered this nation and its needs in almost as much as they revered their Maker.
Sometimes, when watching a movie with my father-in-law, we would see an aircraft and he would say, with great pride, we built those. But in all of that passion they didn’t view their relationship to Grumman the way our retirees view their relationship to our university.
Why is that?
Adam Smith would tell us that we are in the business of producing human capital. Human capital development demands a strong sense of purpose. We watch those in our charge become something they might have never thought possible. This is true for everyone who works here, not just faculty. And our students belong not to the university but to us…all of us.
Our work on the “product” is never finished. A graduate with certificate of attendance and capability in hand continues to grow. We planted seeds and built foundations, but the real work of excellent education never stops. Knowing that creates a connection to those before us who contributed, and continue to contribute, to the ongoing process of education. The pride only increases over time.
Building an F6F Hellcat, the fighter that accounted for 55% of all aircraft downed by the Marines and the Navy in WWII instills sense of purpose and accomplishment.
That was Grumman.
In addition Grumman was instrumental in helping the nation realize JFK’s preposterous proposal to put a man on the moon within the decade. They built the Lunar Lander. Justifiable pride accompanies participation in something bigger than you.
That too was Grumman.
An engineer, working on a team, designed, calculated, prototyped and assembled that Lunar Lander. One of our living, breathing, contributing “products”. Parts of the Lander are still on the Moon, but the engineers and intellectual workers we nurtured are still here, still contributing, and still bringing a sense of accomplishment for those who nourished the ingenuity and creativity of the students that became the engineers.
That is Southern.
More reason to honor and hold in the highest esteem our predecessors in our important work is absolutely unnecessary.
But as our graduates never stop contributing to the social good, all of us, from plumber to president, from faculty to retirees to emeriti should likewise never stop contributing.
With Grumman as long as the retirement benefits keep flowing, and the health insurance is intact, retirees are pleased and proud of their association, and the products they helped produce. A university is different.
It is the gift that must keep on giving in both directions.
We need to appreciate those before us as whatever good we accomplish is reached from standing on their shoulders. We stop appreciating and extending their passion for the place, its work and purpose, at our peril.
A retiree from our university is not a Grumman retiree, and we must be mindful of that, and demonstrate that mindfulness, or the future will be less bright.
The answer to “Why is that?” is simple.
Students are not Hellcats.