Millennials seek the keys to the family stationwagon

I looked at my watch; it was 9:45 P.M. this past Thursday night, April 5, 2016, and I was at the closing night of the fall exhibit of Gallery House Fellowship Program. The window of time was closing for me to be able to crawl into bed before midnight. Thinking about the walk to the subway and the commuting time between Clinton Hill and Roosevelt Island kept nudging me to head for the door. But I just had to linger a little longer, much like it was some four decades back when I was having a good time. I was in good and familiar company.

There was lively, percussion-laden music playing in the rear patio, reminiscent of the days when I lived there.  It definitely wasn't a wild party.  However it was America 2016 minus the stench of spilled beer, mixed with barf and sawdust of the 1970s; thank goodness.  The room was aglow with smiles and chatter, as people admired and purchased the artwork and obtained autographed copies of the book about Natalia Ponce de Leon. We chatted in Spanish, and Natalia signed my copy. My favorite painting had gone for $300.

It was an amazing turn of events for our association. It had just been less than a week since we told Alexa and Eric, at their induction ceremony, that we were sorry that the mugs we had hoped to present to them were on back-order. Mugs in the size we have traditionally used, going back more than six decades at least, were not in stock anywhere in the US. Alexa had indicated her interest in having one with her name on it. During this past fall semester, pointing at the mugs on display behind the bar, she asked: "Do we get one of those too?"

Now, Ariane greeted me, as I lingered in the Chapter Room. She described how organizing the exhibit had really been an important and meaningful experience for her, much as Alexa and Eric had also affirmed during the induction on Saturday. After listening to Ariane, I said, "I wished I had recorded what you said."  Later, Maria urged me to get photographed with a plastic mask on my face, like acid attack victims wear. It was in keeping with what many of the patrons at the exhibit were doing. She too, like Ariane, said she looked forward to being a mentor to the next class this coming fall semester.

Rudolph also said as much. All this talk coming from the fellows began to overwhelm me. Had we really succeeded after years of hard work and planning to bring student life back into the House? Rudolph also wanted to hear more about what it was like to live here back when I was a student. I described to him how the brothers who had gone to Woodstock had the original posters on the walls in their rooms. I talked about how sawdust was put on the floor before a party, and about how scores of beer kegs were rolled off the Budweiser truck and into the rear of the hall on the ground floor. He wanted to know what our recruitment strategy looked like back then compared to what we have now developed as a program to hopefully engage and retain members. 

In recounting all that to Rudolph, I provided some context of the times back then and the experiences of those days that bonded us, including those experiences that related to what was going on culturally and politically in the US. I spoke about how we, as brothers, sat in the isles of packed trains headed to Washington to protest the war; about how we listened anxiously as the President drew lottery numbers to determine which one of us would be called up to serve in Vietnam; about how MLK and RFK had just been killed; about how Stonewall had just taken place; about how the gates to the campus had been locked by the students leading a strike; and about how Gloria Steinem and others were burning bras down on Wall Street. 

All these conversations about the future and the past were beginning to light a bulb within my head; evidently the magic and the spirit that we used to call Hanna was still in residence at 272 Clinton Ave.  Because of all this talk and interest, I now felt more confident that within the next 24 months, consistent with our plans, two students who we may or may not have already met will be moving into 272 Clinton Ave.   They will continue the generational cycle of running the Gallery House Program and begin to provide day-to-day property management, similar to what we did but scaled back in terms of the number of residents.  Indeed, we are cresting the hump of the struggles of the recent decade.

The driving impetus to "pay forward," in gratitude for the gift we got in our undergraduate years, has apparently paid off. Another generation will treasure the added value our spirit brings to student life at Pratt Institute. Our challenges will likely now shift to being there for these and future generations, in a supportive manner with an ongoing presence, and to intervene in a timely and helpful manner so that there is never a lost decade again. We now also shift to being there for ourselves in developing, supporting and participating in a meaningful program for members, post-graduation. I dear say, it looks like we did it, and thank you!


Gil Gerald

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