A reflection on alumni solidarity by Tim Rodgers ’71. Tim is a retired founder of Rodgers Townsend, a leading ad agency in St. Louis, and spends his time volunteering at SLUH and other charities, in addition to traveling and spending time with loved ones. He also regularly attends Manresa meetings, reflecting on Ignatian spirituality, with fellow classmates.
Anyone who has attended a Jesuit school is instilled with Ignatius’ call to be “men for others.” At SLUH, that call has inspired young men from Dr. Tom Dooley ’44 in Southeast Asia, to Fr. Thomas Bryon’s ’55 Caritas Connections here in St. Louis, to the countless, more recent alumni who generously give their time and talents in the service of others. The genuine heroes and heroics are too numerous to recount here.
Over the years, I’ve observed in SLUH graduates of every age a slightly different twist on Ignatius’ dictum that is equally remarkable: they emerge from their time at SLUH, not only as men for others, but as men for each other.
But what makes that “remarkable”?
We each arrive at SLUH as awkward, 14-year-old boys. Some are accompanied by grade school buddies, hanging close to them while wanting to explore and prove we’re men of the world, and not limited to our childhood haunts.
Initially, we count on each other to be introduced to that exotic lass your new SLUH friend went to grade school with, or for rides, weekend activities, and tips on food and music. Before long, being there for each other extends to supporting each other in our individual passions while at SLUH. Whether that’s helping with studies, sharing news of a summer job opening, going off together on our Senior Projects, or supporting each other’s athletic, theatric or now robotic pursuits. Later, we look to these now trusted friends for advice on college choices, fields of study, and yes, that less-young lass your friend went to grade school with.
Upon admission, it’s impressed on us that SLUH thrives by a “needs-blind” admission policy, so we’re aware from our first moments that everyone we’ll encounter has as much or more God-given talent and drive as we have, even if we do not share the same socio-economic circumstances. That leads to status-blind friendships, that stand the test of time.
We each took a different path to get to SLUH, and maybe that’s what makes us more likely to accept and help those who choose paths different from our own, with outcomes different from our own. You could say that in the latter stages of life, it’s needs-blind in reverse; we become needs-aware. You help whoever needs it, knowing that your classmate in need – financially, medically, emotionally, and eventually, mobility – “but for the grace of God” could just as easily be you.
Maybe I’ve forgotten, since it’s been nearly fifty years, but I don’t recall ever being told by the faculty to look out for one another. It wasn’t necessary. It reminds me of that classic scene in “A Few Good Men” where Lieutenant Kaffee asks Corporal Barnes if directions to the mess hall were in The Marines’ Standard Operating Procedures Manual:
Kaffee: Corporal Barnes, how did you find the mess hall if it’s not in this book?
Barnes: Well, sir, like everybody else, I just followed the crowd at chow time.
We learned from leaders, not by lecture, to follow the crowd at care time.
I’m sure there is some bias in my powers of observation, but I don’t see the same concern for the class at large from friends and acquaintances who attended other Catholic or public high schools, including other Jesuit schools. The focus is more narrowly on their immediate group of friends. I can speak most specifically to the class of 1971, where so many of us remain close, and it’s long been known that attendance at SLUH reunions is much higher than at other public or private high schools.
Of course, part of being true men for each other is not wanting to draw attention to ourselves, or to the private plights of others. What compelled me to share my thoughts was the story last Fall in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the late Mark Cendroski and his classmates from the SLUH Class of 1968. To me, Mark’s story is the embodiment of what it means to be men for each other.
By all accounts, Mark was a terrific student athlete at SLUH (I was a freshman when Mark was a senior in my brother Kevin’s class), and enjoyed a successful career and beloved family before being stricken with early dementia. Geoff Waldron mobilized his fellow classmates from ’68 to paint Mark’s house when he was no longer capable, and established a trust fund to help ease the financial crisis that Mark’s family suffered as a consequence of his illness.
I know of another class pulling together in support of a classmate whose wife faced breast cancer, helping with household and lawn chores. In that case, a SLUH alum from a different year who owned a lawn service donated his services when he learned it was to help a fellow Jr. Bill. I know of a more recent class pulling together to help two classmates whose sisters suffered debilitating health issues. And I know of classmates simply helping an immobile friend secure his weekly groceries.
Being a part of SLUH, I’ll bet you know of similar stories. Most are not spectacular; just advice, support, consolation and understanding through the natural meanderings of life. And that’s what makes it remarkable: not the extraordinary, the ordinary.
Like every school and organization, we have our rogues’ gallery, and I’m hardly the paragon of virtue myself, but by and large the friends and faculty you encounter at SLUH will forever have your best interests in mind. The older I get, the more I see, and appreciate, the exceptional wisdom, grace and compassion of my classmates and faculty, and I know they will always be there for me, and my family.
To those of you still on campus, take a good look around and know you are likely to share much more than four years of high school together. As my friend and our class president, Joe Castellano '71, has opined, “You’re very likely looking at the best man at your wedding.” In my son Tim’s case, you might even officiate at wedding. You can also be confident those same classmates will be there for you when you need help in some unforeseen, and unimaginable way somewhere down the line.
No one knows where life will take you, but as a SLUH student or alum you’ve been blessed with extraordinary gifts. Perhaps none is more precious than being endowed membership in a band of brothers, who are men for each other.