A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Times Obit Triggers High School Memories of the Cambodian Invasion

Attempts by candidates to link present virtues to early indications sometimes fall flat and I like to think I've changed a lot since I was a teenager. But an obituary in the New York Times today connected me to a man I had forgotten and also to an early action of mine that, it could be argued, presaged some of my present style . 

The man was Robert Goheen and he was the President of Princeton from 1957 until 1972. I called him as an eighteen year old high school student to solicit his help. Actually, prep school student would be more accurate.

I grew up in suburban New Jersey and nothing about my family approached being wealthy. If there was any inherited money it wasn't evident to me and my father commuted to New York City to work as traffic manager for a steamship line. Our garage had a dirt floor, we had a one-bathroom house (on  the second floor) and our garden and chickens were both indulgences and a lingering habits from my parent's Great Depression experiences. 

But I was an only child and not doing well in school. School officials thought I 'tested well' but my grades usually didn't reflect my potential so my parents tried a private day school and, when that didn't work, a boarding school in Princeton, the Hun School. I repeated my junior year of high school there, and by senior year I had been elected to the student council.

Somewhere in the spring of 1970, the American public found out about the invasion of Cambodia and many colleges and some high schools were shut down by student protests and strikes. The Hun student leadership decided to stage a teach-in rather than a protest. I'm not claiming it was my idea, but it might have been and I supported it. It fell to me to call President Goheen to ask his assistance. It was with some trepidation that I called, but I made the call anyway and found President Goheen to be gracious and helpful. I believe he actually spoke at our teach-in, but that may be wishful memory. 

The NYT obit says of Goheen: "He weathered the protests, the rebellion, and the confusion that swept higher education in the 1960's, using humor and urging civilized debate. He had little use for angry protest, even when he agreed with the protesters, as he ultimately did with critics of the Vietnam War."

Although popular sentiment on the Princeton campus was opposed to the invasion, we found an articulate, confident, conservative student willing to come speak in support of the conduct of the war and, as I recall, mounted a balanced assembly that was an alternative to classes for one day. 

So is my flashback significant? What character traits do I chose to extract? Trepidation and not living up to potential? No. Hey, this is a campaign. 

I prefer to emphasize the reaching out to others not like myself, and the quest for balance, education and civilized debate. Oh, and using humor to defuse tension. And, in retrospect, I appreciate my brief, tangential interaction with one of Princeton's great President's who chose to listen to me and, in doing so, taught me one great life lesson, which is usually formulated as something like "the worst he can do is say 'no'". Fortunately for me, President Goheen said 'yes'.

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