In his Commencement address to the Class of 2009, Blair Kamin (H) ’09, the Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic of The Chicago Tribune, urged every North Central College graduate to “Be a Builder.” After poking a little fun at himself (referencing the old TV show “Bob the Builder”), Kamin commented: “When I say, ‘Be a Builder,’ I am talking aspirationally, not vocationally. You can leave your legacy on anything from the visible public landscape to the private landscape of our emotions. You can build a friendship. Or a network of friends. A community. A business. A church, a synagogue or a mosque. Or, at the highest level, you can construct the very contours of our common experience.”
I thought about this eloquent, tightly constructed speech (which I urge you to view online) — and its central metaphor—during the memorial service in Koten Chapel just one week later for Professor of English Emeritus and former Dean of Faculty Richard M. Eastman, truly one of the giants in the history of North Central College. Kamin’s “builder” is not just about bricks and mortar. He’s a critic of what is, in search of what could be. He is, as Kamin noted concerning his fellow honorees at North Central’s Commencement, a “builder of culture.”
I suspect that Dick Eastman would have been uncomfortable with use of the word builder to describe his life and legacy. He was so many things … a teacher, scholar, writer, composer, musician, protean intellectual, academic leader, visionary and role model. But Kamin’s definition of builder applies to him like few others I have known.
Dick was a modest man. But in an oral history in 1992 for the North Central Archives, prodded by the interviewer, Howard Mueller ’58, his former student and professor of religious studies, he acknowledged: “I think my major accomplishment was to bring the College into a new way of being.” Just right.
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For the generations of North Central alumni who think of Professor Eastman as one of the all-time great teachers, this perspective should be added: As much as any trustee or president in the years since World War II, both as a colleague and an administrator, Richard M. Eastman was the architect of the North Central College we celebrate today—from the curriculum … to faculty governance … to tenure regulations … to professional terms for faculty … to a campus climate of intellectual rigor, civility and openness to diverse ideas, cultures and backgrounds.
And in more than a quarter century of vigorous activity following his retirement from North Central, Dick continued to be a builder—writing, composing, witnessing for us all to the end of his life the “five great powers of a true liberal arts education” that he identified in a speech to the graduating class of North Central College in 1981: openness to a complete life (including its leisure), an understanding of the past which shapes us, a grasp of the current social issues we must help to solve, flexibility in life commitment, and the ability to recognize excellence wherever we look or act.
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This issue of the North Central Now highlights the College’s culture of inquiry. I think of that culture as a reflection of the “new way of being” that Dick Eastman had such an important role in building. Elsewhere in this magazine, you will read of other great builders of the campus who died this spring, notably Life Trustees Elmer Dagenais, Larry Gregory and Honorary Trustee Hugo Koranda. As we reflect on their legacies, Blair Kamin’s parting words to the graduates are both an apt summation and a challenge to us all: “We don’t just build for ourselves. We build, as the beloved buildings of your campus remind you, for those who follow. Consider that your blueprint for living.”
Harold R. Wilde
North Central NOW Fall 2009