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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Modest Proposal

I would have written this for April1, but I didn’t have the idea until the next day, when I happened upon two friends who were setting up the Alumni Lounge in the Campus Center for a retirement party for a devoted employee. They informed me that the retiree was to receive not just one chair for his retirement, but two.

The gift of a chair is a thoughtful gesture on the part of the university and, certainly, two chairs signify a great deal of service and gratitude. Besides being considerate, a chair is very functional, but it only provides for one activity – sitting. Upon some reflection, it occurred to me that perhaps a better gift for a retiree would be a kayak. It, too, provides for sitting while holding out the possibility of so much more. Actual motion.

In recent years much attention has been paid to successful aging, resulting in a number of studies. Few, if any, of these studies recommend extended periods of sitting as the way to negotiate old age. Although the studies do not specifically celebrate the virtues of kayaking, they do tout exercise.

UMass Boston has two distinctive physical characteristics on the campus. They are its art installations and its parking lots. Huru, which is indeed unique, greets everyone who visits the university. It commands our unconditional love, which it receives. But if our collective infatuation with it ever ends or if it should collapse under its own weight, it could be replaced with an official UMass Boston kayak mounted high for the whole world to see.

A third distinctive feature lies at the doorstep of the campus – the ocean. Not even Harvard University, which has everything else, has an ocean. We should take advantage of it. The harbor constitutes an ideal location for a parade of kayaks after graduation or to open the academic year at convocation. Thousands of kayaks bobbing up and down and the wind whipping tassels tied to kayak paddles would make a grand sight and initiate recent graduates on their journey beyond the university’s shores.

Naturally and, I might add, understandably, those who guide the university or, more accurately, navigate its course are concerned about branding – issues of identity – as they should be. This is exhibited in everything from envelopes to web sites, and even the chairs that recent retirees sit on.

I am proposing that official UMass Boston kayaks be blue and white with the sweeping, cursive “U” and the stout, strong “M” imprinted on the bow. The paddle would have one blue blade and one white, with UMass Boston tastefully inscribed on the shaft. The PFD (personal flotation device), which every retiree would be required to wear, would also bear the university logo. Thus, the branding would be complete and on public display periodically for 20-30 years rather than, like a chair, hidden to all but the occupier.

Now, I believe in chairs and use one almost daily. Casual observation, however, suggests that most employees of the university sit on a somewhat regular basis. Some deserve a good, long sit, but they are likely either employees in the facilities department or work in the food court or at one of the coffee kiosks, situated near the art installations or parking lots.

While these deserving folks sit, the rest of us should get busy. In an age of stimulus packages, the purchase of kayaks would stimulate the paddle sports industry, which has barely managed to stay afloat. It would inspire the university’s poet laureate to a new set of insights with attendant rhymes. UMass Boston’s symbol is a beacon, which should light up any number of lines in a celebratory ode. Consider this: When the light this beacon shines/glitters off the kayak’s chine/ and leads us back from open seas/snug in our blue and white P.F.D.’s. Or: Early in the day/through the morn’s dank, chilly shades/the flash of blue and white paddle blades/helps us find our way.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the school’s location, some on the faculty and staff enjoy fishing. They stand listlessly on the shore and languidly toss lines to attract fish; a chair might appeal to them. However, a fishing kayak would provide them with the thrill of the chase. It would also put a fresh twist on an old insight: “They also serve who sit and bait.”

Kayaks would also complement the image of a beacon. A causal survey reveals that few actually know the university’s motto. So, I’m proposing, modestly of course, that the university’s motto be changed to: “What Use is a Beacon Without a Kayak to Beckon?”

Translate that into Latin and UMass Boston has itself an image and a seal to rival its art installations and parking lots.