The college was defined by a conversation: Lincoln debated Douglas on the steps of Old Main 151 years ago this October 7th. The debate itself was an extension of our campus conversation—the dialogue students and professors were having about slavery at the time brought the two men here, helped to define the environment in which they spoke—and would help to make Lincoln known as someone who could have a conversation. When he won the presidency, he refused to swear-off discourse with the errant half of the country that wanted to end the national conversation, and he kept together the house divided against itself. The members of this college kept his rhetorical legacy in their lack of silence through the hysteria of the 20th century, and so we have made ourselves a place to live in the upper air. But, our conversation has fallen into disrepair, and our house is likewise falling into ruin.
As a campus, we’re not presently interested in participating in conversation; we’re almost not at all involved in the life constantly mushrooming inside the community. We know nothing of Galesburg after Cherry Street, we generally disparage the city, we don’t support the Center, we walk out of meetings about the future of the college, we neglect institutions like TKS, SASS, WVKC (the Voice of Knox College), and Student Senate, we impeach one another, we slander ourselves, we tip-toe around one another at ice cream socials, we give each other wary looks in the hallways and trust to nothing. It may be that our troubles result from thinking that our lives are unimportant. We become detached; we ice over; we accept mortgages leveraged at 100-to-1. If we don’t matter, is there anything worth writing about? If we don’t care, is there anything worth doing? In the absence of conversation, everything stultifies—rigid lines are drawn, and the places in which we live and the things we live on drop away.
Just as we don’t participate as we should in discourse and the act of making things, we don’t participate in the main campus vessel for fostering that discourse and displaying that making, which is Catch. This is why we’re writing to you, and this is what’s at stake: Catch (for those of you who don’t know, your campus magazine of student work) depends upon the community and is a reflection of the community—we’re nothing without you, but together we’re nothing without contact with each other. Though the magazine is one of the best publications of its kind in the country, it’s nevertheless only the ancillary result, the chaff, of a back-and-forth with the community. The process is more important than the result. This is about where you live and how and why and who and how we are and what we want to be; we’re about making some dispatch from the edge of life about our little postage stamp of earth. Help us create a conversation which will leave this place in better order than we found it: submit to Catch.
Let’s give something that can last and supply future generations with a heritage which they can look to when the infrastructure of their lives needs re-ordering. If we don’t, in some way, renew our conversational covenant, and make it perennial with the earth, we will make for ourselves a house which no one will want to live in 100 years from now—not the house that Lincoln-Douglas built, and which Lincoln crawled through to get to the stage, but a jittery shack nailed together haphazardly by our own lack of care. We can have that conversation right now, if you want to, and we will be remembered for it. There are things here as worth writing about and being proud of and troubled by as anywhere else—as epic in scope as Paradise Lost and as useful as a well-built as a good computer program or a house tightly made. We make this claim for ourselves with a slip of paper.
On November 4, 2008, we poured into the streets to celebrate Obama’s victory, 143 years after the Civil War ended, and that’s how I knew that our house was still standing, and how we knew that, beneath the apathy we all too often display, there is this well of voices willing to rise up to celebrate the cause of life. On the walk from Founders to the Publications Office, there’s a pamphlet, circulated by the Bicentennial Commission, on display, and it says: Stand with Lincoln. So do. Be careful with the things you love.