January 18, 2016  • Curriculum

Larger Than Life
Larger Than Life

I love MLK Day, particularly as celebrated by President Obama. I love that we focus on volunteerism and giving back. I love that we focus on service.


For service, above all else, is what Dr. King represented to me.


He would be horrified, I suspect, at the fact that we’re still forced to declare loudly that Black Lives Matter. He would be more horrified that not all agree. He would be horrified to see the countless headlines announcing deaths of promising young people, too many at the hands of community servants charged with their protection.


And “horrified” doesn’t even begin to describe how I image he would feel upon hearing the ongoing news of poisoned Americans and unlivable conditions in Flint, Michigan.


If he cared about the Academy Awards, he would be horrified at this year’s slate of nominees, not because the nominees themselves are lacking, but rather because the slate itself is.


And even as I write this, I find myself wondering if I’ve used the wrong subject. “He” probably is horrified. I certainly am. I continually am.


And yet, horrified as I am, I continue to have hope. I continue to believe in service. I continue to be optimistic that tomorrow will be a better day.


I am surrounded by those who exemplify the meaning of service as best embodied by Dr. King and by President Obama. Their service and their spirits fuel my optimism, even as I recognize that “tomorrow” won’t feel better for anyone personally connected with a tragedy. It can’t. We’ll continue to hurt, and we’ll continue to mourn. And even if the world gets better on a macro-level, it won’t necessarily feel better in a micro-sense. Not as long as we continue to learn of moments that horrify us, moments that make us hurt.


This morning I learned that Denny Griffith, the beloved former president of the Columbus College of Art & Design passed away. He succumbed to cancer’s vicious poison, but he didn’t lose his battle.


He won his battle with cancer. He lived with cancer. And he won.


He died in the end, as we all will, but his life was well lived, both before and after he shared publicly that he was battling a horrible, vicious disease.


The first time I met Denny was at the annual kick-off meeting for CCAD’s academic year in 2012. I was a brand-new adjunct, not even sure that I belonged in the room with people who knew each other and their art so well. Denny took the stage and made an irreverent joke about a faculty member’s installation being the reason many people were running late. Then he welcomed us.


He embodied all I came to love in CCAD: Its irreverence, its humor, and its welcoming nature that embraces all regardless of superficial differences.


But none of these things would be possible without first incredible art and incredible education.


Those I have come to know at CCAD—the strangers I admired during that first meeting—are some of the best educators I’ve ever met. They care deeply and profoundly about the students and about each other. They are also some of the best artists I’ve ever met. They continually create and share their studio practices with the world, even as they wander the halls of CCAD without touting their greatness.


The practice of art and the practice of education is a service. Denny embodied this better than nearly anyone I’ve known, and he challenged the rest of us to serve better, to serve longer, and to serve more deeply, even and especially in light of tragedies that surround us.


He too was horrified by what he viewed as ongoing and avoidable tragedies in our world. He too continued to serve.


Dr. King’s service didn’t end when his life did. Denny’s service doesn’t end either.


It continues through all those touched by his service. We carry on. We continue to fight.


We continue to serve.


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