Dateline: Downtown

Dan Roche

OK. I’ve been holding off. I got such an unsatisfying response to my offer that I’ve decided to go ahead with my project. None of you are getting a red cent out of me. Even the best entry I received, by one Adam E., didn’t look as if it took much more than an hour or two to write. A primary consideration in awarding the money was whether I thought the essay was about the money, or about the Mission.

I should explain my motives. It was not purely to incite a desire on the part of my readers to think hard about the school they go to, what its social history is, and how they can help to illustrate what the “Urban Mission” means to them in 2008 so that other people can look back on our moment in time and see a bit of themselves, and to help focus the students around them on working hard so that they can turn around and continue to help build the city they love. So many amazing things are accomplished here, and so many people with fascinating stories roll through our campus that I figured, maybe I’ll get lucky and amid all the submissions I receive that don’t quite strike that note I’m looking for, one special one will hit me just right and perhaps inspire a few of you as well. I have not received this.

Another part of my motive was that I’ve been collecting unemployment insurance, and felt a little guilty about collecting money for doing nothing and wanted to recycle it in the economy. There might have been some submerged desperation for attention too, who knows.

If you want the truth, though, I will lay it out for you, O my brothers and sisters. See, I suspected that few were going to write in. I sensed that no path would be pounded into the carpet around my desk with people begging me to accept their entries. It was a bit of performance, really. All I wanted to show was that no one really knows what the “Urban Mission” is. We’ll hear the phrase a few times at orientation, and then perhaps it is thrown around in a speech, where there is a dim recognition that lasts for a moment or two, with few associations.

If you look at the phrase, though, it is so urgent: it is unfortunate that such an energetic two words should combine so hazily. I hear, “Urban Mission”, and I want to run to Downtown Crossing and fight mad crime! I want to house everyone sleeping by the monument on the Commons, I want to refurbish the decrepit Bulfinch at 102 Broad Street, make Menino speak in clear and precise diction, out-drink Norm and Cliffy, add 10,000 seats at Fenway Park that do not compromise its structural integrity and reopen the Rathskellar in my basement. Sign me up for any Urban Mission. Do you hear?

But at this point, what is it but an empty platitude? What I am saying is that while students filter through the school, in order for them to come back in later years and to remember their time here distinctly and fondly, there needs to be a more cohesive school culture. I’m not asking for indoctrination camps, and I’m aware of the Urban Mission Coordinating Committee, but what I am seeking for is a shared sense of community pride. It’s an intangible, sure, but you know it when you feel it.

So, to that end, I am keeping the money, but not for very long. I’m going to “earn” it, however, after which the money be donated to Rosie’s Place. Our next issue is the last of the semester, and so over the course of this week I will be interviewing several people, some “old guard” UMB faculty, some students who are interesting, administrators, and whoever else strikes my fancy. I will ask them about their idea of the Urban Mission, and hopefully from here we can form a better picture of it, so that it can become the philosophy it deserves to be, and not just more words that elicit no response or a vague one on the part of many of our students.