Novelist and historian Shelby Foote used to say that a university is simply a bunch of buildings surrounding a library. Others have claimed that a university is a bunch of buildings surrounding a keg. But that argument is for another time.
For the moment, I would like instead to focus on the library of my alma mater and why I think about it often, especially this week as we honor those who served. The reason for this connection is because the library I used to frequent was one bearing the name: Mark Odom Hatfield.
When I started studying (sometime sophomore year?) at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, it often became necessary to peel myself away from the frenzy of the frat houses to find a quiet place to focus. It turns out such a place exists, and at Willamette, that location is named the Hatfield Library.
My buddies used to interrogate me about where I would disappear to — questioning what old "Marko Hatfield" (or at times "Mark O'Hatfield") and I had planned for the day. The ribbing about me replacing them with Mr. Hatfield became such an annoyance that I finally decided to do some research on who this "Hatfield" was so that I could finally put to rest the disagreements over his name.
I thought this pursuit would only take a minute. The Google search would spew me results confirming both the pronunciation and origin of the name "Mark O. Hatfield," and I would return to whatever paper I was trying to finalize (or rather begin). I hit the search button — I was quickly humbled.
It turns out that "Mark O. Hatfield" was more than just the name that hung above my roommates and me whenever we decided to crack open our textbooks. Mark O. Hatfield ended up being the exact reason libraries could exist at all — not because he donated them, as I initially assumed, but because he defended them.
You see, what I learned that autumn evening about my friend Mark, was that he was a sailor once. Upon finishing his years at Willamette, Mark decided to put his personal ambitions aside and leave the comforts of the valley for places unknown. He graduated from the streams and creeks to vast oceans. His studying venues shifted from brick buildings to rocky islands. Familiar names such as Waller and Eaton Hall were replaced with the less familiar Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
A lump in my throat developed as I scrolled down the Wikipedia page and read more about my friend. Suddenly, my paper felt less significant.
Whenever I think about the night I first learned about the real Mark O. Hatfield, I don't so much dwell on the inferiority of my resume compared to his. Instead, I reflect on just how grateful I am that someone who walked the same halls, slept in the same dorms, sunbathed on the same lawns, and inevitably skipped the same lectures, decided to do something more — decided to serve.
David Lowe Cozad is a Beaverton resident and graduate of Beaverton High School, Willamette University and the University of Massachusetts Isenberg School of Management. His other writings can be found at libraryeightyeight.com.
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