From the Editor
When I was in seventh grade, I took a course called “Immigrant.” It was a required course for everyone in my middle school, and it was taught jointly by our social studies and computer science teachers. The focus was the Irish immigration to the U.S. in the 1800s and early 1900s.
But it was more than a history lesson.
At the start of the first class, we were given the name of an Irish immigrant — a real person who had lived and died, and whose fate was to become our own.
In every class meeting, we learned about the culture and living conditions of Ireland, and about the joys and tragedies befalling our personas. We sat at our computer screens in our small New England town and tapped out the personal journals of our namesakes. We closed our eyes and imagined ourselves in one- room cabins, in potato bogs, in poverty, our clothes drooping as we struggled with the devastation of famine and loss, and with the profound decision of how to create a better future for our families.
The course culminated in an overnight in our school computer lab — our voyage to America. We arrived with bags in hand and walked the wooden “plank” in our pajamas. If we slept, it was on the floor, under tables, around desks. It wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t supposed to be — instead, it was a long, dark night filled with the violent sounds of water slamming the hull, the sloshing of latrine buckets, the cries of babies and the wails of the sick and dying.
We sat there, eating hardtack, typing out our emotional journeys, stopping only for the periodic visits from our stern shipmasters (our teachers), who delivered fragments of fate on scraps of paper.
“Mary, your wife, has died of Cholera,” we read in the light of our computer screens.
And our hearts broke. Mary was real. She had become more than a name to us — she was the girl we grew up with, the woman we married, the woman with whom we had decided to risk our lives to give our child a better life. The pain we felt in that moment, in the dark New England night, was real.
Many years later, the lessons of this course remain with me — they are perhaps some of the most enduring of my youth: the immense power we possess as humans to imagine experiences separate from our own, and to feel empathy and love for people whom we may never even know.
The five individuals featured in this year’s story, “Agents of Change,” are living examples of this lesson. They are a reminder of what is possible when we live with our eyes, ears and hearts open to the experiences of those around us, and the transformation that is possible when we put our abilities to work to improve the lives of others. At a time when experiences of violence and intolerance seem to fill our newsstands and newsfeeds more than ever, these stories feel all the more important.
May we each remember our great powers of empathy and understanding as we voyage into the new world of 2017.
All the best,
Amy Weaver, Director of Marketing & Communications
Drexel University College of Arts & Sciences