Granite State of Mind, #130: McConnell Hall, University of New Hampshire, Durham
Some of the places on this list are remarkable for their natural beauty, for their historic relevance, or their cultural importance. This entry doesn't meet any of those criteria. It's really just a nondescript institutional concrete academic building. And really, it's just a nondescript institutional classroom inside the building. And yet, it's one of my favorite scraps of real estate in New Hampshire, one of the most formative in my life, and one of the places I will always consider home.
McConnell Hall was built in 1967 during the tenure of legendary UNH President John McConnell to house the newly established Whittemore School of Business and Economics. At some point during the following decades, the structure was put to a higher purpose, as room 212 became the fishbowl home of the Student Senate. Concentric rows of curved formica desks with swiveling orange chairs under fluorescent lights - this was ground zero of the golden age of student government at UNH. Sunday night was Senate Night, beginning at 6pm and extending sometimes past midnight when security would usher us out of the building, especially come concept and budget time.
I first showed up at the beginning of my freshman year in September of 1993, a newly-minted Senator from Hitchcock Hall. I'd attend the next hundred meetings in a row, culminating in my final meeting at Student Body President at the end of April in 1997 when there was no one left who had been there when I started. I can still remember leaving the room with Becky Turner, Geoff Grant, and Tim Famulare, turning out the lights one last time. And in between those two signposts, what memories. Dave Emanuel, teaching us the difference between one finger and two. Mike Vlacich, unshaven, red sweater and bucket hat, the oft-quiet center of political gravity even then. Mike Proulx reminding us yet again not to shorten "mailbox" to "box". Shelagh Newton Michaud or Virginia Dearani or Liz Purdy or hundreds of others demonstrating beyond any shadow of a doubt that the female of the species is deadlier than the male. Steve William Lindsey waging quixotic battles against injustices, Daryl Hemeon's acre-wide smile, RJ Burns's courteous abstentions, and the notes...before cell phones, we communicated in that quaint, handwritten mode. It might as easily have been 1885 as 1995.
Streams of administrators came to that room, from Dan DiBiasio and Dale Nitzschke to Walter Peterson to Anthony Zizos, David May, Anne Lawing, Leila V Moore, Candace Corvey and Joanne Leitzel paying us a visit to work in collaboration on the great experiment of shared governance. And the things we did, from fee oversight to protecting autonomy to asserting student rights in the handbook - all this the tip of the iceberg of a generation of student leadership that never rested, never shirked the hard labor of looking out for one another. It was a heady time, and one that imprinted upon me the lasting lesson that a group of people, determined and with a shared vision, can move mountains. Most importantly, that such a group can - and should - frequently disagree and hash out those disagreements with vigorous and open debate, impassioned yet respectful, informed, prepared, armed with facts and scope of understanding. It's the kind of government I wish we had in Washington, in Concord, in every county and city and town and school district in America. And here's the rub - we could. We could have that. What we need is to expect it, to require it, to demand it of those we elect to represent us. And if that fails, to show up and do it ourselves.
Plus, we had cooler nametags then.