For the past half century I have happily taught English in a branch of the great City University of New York! Originally our school had no campus; classes were held in rented office space in commercial buildings around Fiftieth Street and Broadway. My office overlooked the Winter Garden.
The college was experimental and adventurous for all of us; we shared floors with offices and dancehalls, racing from building to building. The thinking was that the working population surrounding us might want to improve their skills and broaden their career possibilities and their lives by taking courses offered conveniently nearby. It was indeed, a brilliant and generous idea!
We grew and grew!
Inevitably, we needed a whole campus, and a wonderful site was selected on the waterfront, downtown: Chambers Street.
So, today, a fine campus exists there and our school has already expanded beyond it to several large neighborhood buildings as well. When I walk through the broad central plaza to work, I wonder, each time – I am not exaggerating – EACH TIME – why the entry monument?
For in the center of the broad entry to our campus stands a sculpture, Icarus, memorializing the son of the great Greek mythological craftsman, Daedalus. The myth tells that Daedalus, the father of Icarus, and the designer of the great Labyrinth confining the minotaur for King Minos of Crete, was imprisoned there with his son by King Minos. Daedalus then fashioned two pair of wings on light wooden frames, using wax and feathers, so they might escape. And Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun or the wings would melt! But Icarus became ecstatic with joy in the great freedom of his flight and he forgot to heed his father and flew too high. Alas, he fell into the sea and drowned.
What message are we conveying to our students? I ask myself as I hurry to my classes. Is this really the story I want them to carry away from college? Thus do I muse as I pass this way each morning?
I would not have chosen Icarus!