From the UBAA President

Coffee, conversation and civics

Charles Swanekamp, MBA ’80 & JD ’79

Charles Swanekamp, MBA ’80 & JD ’79 (Photo by Rebecca Farnham)

CHAI TEA LATTE—I’m addicted to it. Fortunately, I found a great spot on campus for my favorite beverage, where one recent evening, I was treated to more than a latte. Indeed, it wasn’t the caffeine that energized me—it was a chance to engage two UB students in a discussion of life across the generations.

What began as a conversation over coffee/tea on the merits of 1970s classic rock quickly evolved to life at UB during one of the more turbulent periods in this country, not to mention at this university. I was surprised that these students wistfully yearned to have been part of that era of debate and discussion, of dissent and activism. During that period, UB students stood at the forefront in the fine art of positive change. In the opinion of these two students, however, yesterday’s activism has been replaced with apathy—dialogue has been replaced with silence.

What impressed me most about my newfound coffeehouse companions—other than their exquisite taste in classic rock—was their desire to become involved. They just couldn’t find a “gateway cause” to get started. That evening, I recalled a quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” My only regret is that our conversation ended before I could offer these students suggestions on how to begin their own quest for involvement.

This is where we can and must help our young alumni who will shortly lead our country and the world. They need advice and guidance from those of us who walked the campus when it literally vibrated with committed and passionate students, eager to embrace a cause. However you may feel about the issues of 2007, we can all agree that we should encourage young alumni to register to vote and to regularly exercise that right.

Further, we should encourage their active involvement in the political process—registration in a political party and participation in a campaign. And we should encourage them to commit a portion of their time, talent and treasure to a cause, and to embrace that cause with passion. Meanwhile, we should encourage tolerance for other viewpoints, as well as the uninhibited exchange of ideas, no matter how unpopular those ideas may be.

As I left the coffeehouse that night, I promised my two friends that my last words as your president would be words aimed at shaping their future. I hope they are pleased.

Charles Swanekamp, MBA ’80 & JD ’79

President, UB Alumni Association