The day after he delivered the Noah Krieger ’93 Lecture on the future of American democracy here at Brown, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy published an Atlantic piece on the same topic. He wrote that “despite the nonstop information flow, more Americans report greater feelings of intense loneliness today than at any time before.” Similarly, Surgeon General of the United States Vivek Murthy said this month that we are encountering an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation.”
We each have an incredible responsibility to beat back against this trend. I have seen the importance of community, both before coming to Brown and during my time on College Hill. Without a commitment from each of us to forge strong relationships, we will be unable to build a better, happier and healthier world. For me, the importance of others’ support was apparent from a young age.
You have almost certainly heard the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” When I was six, my mother died suddenly. In the years that followed, I came to understand these words well. My dad was the first community organizer I knew, and I was his first deputy.
I have memories of the two of us sitting at the kitchen table on any given Sunday night and mapping out that week’s logistics. Aunt Pam would pick me up from YMCA aftercare on Monday. He’d pick up Tuesday to take me to soccer practice. On Wednesday, I’d go over to Deontay’s house where we’d play SpongeBob SquarePants Monopoly. On Thursday, I’d get dropped off at home by Tatum and Harris’s mom or dad. And on Friday, Aunt Shirley would pick me up, and dad would meet us at her house for dinner.
This was not an atypical week.
Family was, of course, an important piece of the puzzle. But what was always remarkable to me, from the earliest moments after my mom’s death, were those who stepped in to help make my dad’s life easier, even near-strangers. From a young age, I was fortunate to see what a strong, supportive community looked like.
Imagine if you were asked what “community” at Brown looks like.
For me, there is one image that comes to mind before all the rest: the Main Green on a warm, sunny day.
Personally, I have never been able to do any school work when there are hundreds of people out and when frisbees, footballs and aerial dancers are flying overhead. But I have always found pure, unadulterated joy in seeing everyone out and about — in having long conversations with friends in the shade of one of Brown’s massive trees or playing with a friend’s puppy as it rolls around in the grass.
Even on an ordinary, less sunny day, when the entirety of the student body is not actively procrastinating school work, walking across the green is an opportunity to wave at your first-year roommate, give a quick hug to your best friend on your way to class or to pretend to admire the architecture of Friedman Hall as you avoid making eye contact too soon with the person walking toward you.
The Main Green, and the time we’ve spent there together, is a reminder that our time at Brown has been so much more than a purely academic endeavor. And it is the place I missed most when the pandemic whisked us far away from campus during the spring of my first-year.
As Amanda Mull wrote in The Atlantic in 2021, the pandemic made it nearly impossible for us to socialize or engage with anyone other than our closest friends and family. She argued that there had been a nearly universal collapse of what she called “peripheral connections,” or those friendships and relationships you have with people you might not know that well.
“Peripheral connections tether us to the world at large; without them, people sink into the compounding sameness of closed networks,” Mull wrote.
Working to build the types of communities, like those of the Main Green and those of my childhood, are a pathway to the type of world we’d all prefer to live in. We must work relentlessly to preserve, deepen and grow our relationships, strengthening those we have with people we are already close with and opening ourselves up to others who we may not know.
I have personally seen the importance of strong relationships when times are hard. And I think most students at Brown share that experience too. I hope that understanding guides our choices into the future.
As we, members of the class of 2023, go forth, we must remember our time at Brown and work to cultivate a Main Green community of our own beyond College Hill — where there’s laughter, good conversation, rest from work and friendship. Our world needs it.