Nathan Hale is the Symbol of my Alma Mater

The post of the excellent and much-recommended Diary “Nathan Hale– How much do you love liberty?” caused me to reflect on a few things.

Hale’s bronze statue sits in front of Connecticut Hall at Yale University where he lived as student before graduating in 1773.   The top givers to Yale are  honored as “Nathan Hale Associates”.

I saw Hale’s statue this weekend when I was back on Yale’s campus for my fifteenth reunion.  The class of 1945 was also present, for their final (65th) official reunion.  As they walked slowly around campus, I could see many of them fondly recalling their youthful days.

At the close of our reunion, all of the classes gather together in Yale Commons for an all class breakfast.  Commons is a magnificient and imposing structure at the heart of Yale’s campus. It was A Greek/Roman style building modeled after an ancient original and  constructed as a war memorial for Yale’s dead in World War I.  Anyone who has seen it recognizes it as an emotional  and  aesthetic centerpiece of Yale’s beautiful campus. At one point after I had eaten, I wandered back into the marble rotunda in Commons, on which are etched the names, dates, and places of death for all of Yale’s war dead, starting with a large number who fought for our Independence in the American Revolution– Nathan Hale was among them.

Scanning the list of World War II, I counted 70 names from the class of 1945 that would not live to see their graduation (this is out of maybe 1000 students total that would have been in that class).  I thought of the experience that these older men I saw today had had as young boys, and how much they had sacrificed- and how sadly shallow by comparison my own class was.

On my way out of the Rotunda, I made sure to find a couple of the members of the class of 1945 to thank them for their sacrifice.

Unfortunately, like many American institutions Yale has, in many ways, fallen greatly from its glory days. The “old blues” scorned by many contemporaries for having benefited from privileges of race, class and gender, didn’t hesitate to risk their lives  when their country called in an hour of need.  By contrast, my own class, a product of the so-called meritocracy, has no names on the memorial wall– and few who have served at all in our armed forces.

If you are looking for symbols of the decline of our elite institutions, you needn’t look much further than our “Best universities” that produce investment bankers and “social activists” by the thousands, but are very unlikely to produce a Nathan Hale for this generation.