How to fix a despair-ridden campus community

The meaning of Spartan life

Jacob Martin

As my fingers punch the letters on the keyboard of my laptop to create the words you are now reading, I feel like a shipwrecked sailor, marooned on an island with waves crashing onto the shore with fury and rage. I am fighting a battle against senselessness that I feel I may lose.
I’ve realized I love Case Western Reserve University, but I can’t say exactly why.

I grew up in various parts of Cleveland. I can remember living predominantly on the east side, going to my aunt’s house on the west side, to my church downtown and all over the more eclectic neighborhoods like Coventry, Larchmere, Shaker Square and Tremont, with my father. Perhaps I have a stronger affinity to this city than others, but I know that home is not necessarily a tangible thing defined by a spatial location.

In fact, I do not feel I have a home in any conventional sense. To me, a home is a place wherever comfort is felt—wherever the outstretched hand of kindness presents itself. Right now, I feel no comfort and see no outstretched hands at CWRU.

Last week’s Observer was a sad testament to the confused animosity that plagues our realities. I feel obliged to admit that I am becoming jaded with my own promotion of community and dialogue, diversity and collegiality. I am on the scenic route to cynicism—a road riddled with potholes and endless detours that wind through a forest of black.

A law professor is suing the dean of the law school, Cleveland cultural institutions are without leaders, there are 120 gun deaths in Cuyahoga County since Sandy Hook and advising and university satisfaction ratings drop. Opinion columnists talk about the flourishing arrogance and (lack of) intelligence on campus, and the notion that CWRU will always be “that school” deprived of community because of mismanagement and the idea that money solves all problems. These were all features.

I know these things shouldn’t overshadow the treasures our campus has. From a first-year student’s thriving haunted house business to an upcoming late night performance showcase at Harkness Chapel, there are plenty of good things happening in University Circle. But for some reason, I tend to focus on the bad.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote in his novel “Deadeye Dick,” “I concluded that the best thing for me and for those around me was to want nothing, to be enthusiastic about nothing, to be as unmotivated as possible, in fact, so that I would never again hurt anyone.” This should be CWRU’s motto because we are one of the most apathetic and dispirited places: We readily give into irrational fears and operate in a constant state of apprehension.

We assume lackluster routines that are cheerlessly mundane, finding solace only on weekends spent trying to escape reality while worrying about the impending week. We do not focus on what’s in front of us, nor do we acknowledge all the splendors and opportunities that present themselves to us daily. We walk around like vagrants, merely drifting from one building to the next, completely unaware of the life outside our heads.

As I write these words, I can feel myself slip further into the abyss of disappointment because I know the individuals that make up our university are anything but dispirited. I have met some of the most passionate people on this campus, but that passion quickly disappears from their everyday existences—the excitement for learning and fire of curiosity that accompanied our arrival in August have died.

Last Friday, I heard the Cleveland Orchestra perform a night of Beethoven, culminating with his powerful and famous Fifth Symphony. However, before the second piece—Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge—began, Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser-Möst, paused, and in an extremely rare gesture, addressed the audience.

“I am asked all the time, what does the [Grosse] Fuge mean?” Welser-Möst began. He explained the technical difficulty and history of the piece, as well as the mass confusion it has been met with. He reminded those in attendance that Beethoven was already completely deaf when it was written before offering a divinely uplifting interpretation.

Welser-Möst called the piece “philosophical and introspective,” then broke it down by section, highlighting an overarching dichotomy. “The first part is Beethoven’s introduction of the theme and question of fate… The second part is his answer of hope.” He stated that the Grosse Fuge’s key, B-flat major, is the musical key of hope, concluding his remarks with, “Beethoven is telling us that we can overcome fate with hope and the spirit of man.”

I made a promise some weeks ago in this column that I would continue to vociferate the message of strong community, productive dialogue and thoughtful diversity, and I will uphold that promise. For I believe in CWRU, and I refuse to let the nails of frustration and loneliness and anger and despair seal us into the coffin of senselessness and disillusion.

As I coped with my own struggles that night, the electricity flowing through Welser-Möst’s compelling words and Beethoven’s forcefully harrowing notes animated and inspired me to have faith in the spirit of man and once again trust and believe in the power of hope.

“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” —Dylan Thomas.