Alumni Weekend sparks analysis of Willamette University's motto

by University Communications,

“Willamette is one of the rare institutions I’ve encountered in my life where the motto is not just a saying that no one knows about,” Eric Friedenwald-Fishman ’88 says. “It is actually something that has meaning.”

Friedenwald-Fishman moderated the “Living the Motto” Politics Symposium during Alumni Weekend on Sept. 12, exploring what “Not unto ourselves alone are we born” means to a panel of distinguished alumni.

The panel — Curtis Acosta ’94, Dawn Albert ’08, Astrid Dabbeni ’01, Jennifer Sasser ’89 and Jeff Heatherington ’65 — have devoted their careers to serving their communities, such as by helping traditionally marginalized groups and providing families with affordable health care.

“We have this amazing experience of getting to be on this planet for a really long time,” says Sasser, chairwoman of the Department of Human Sciences in Portland.

“When we talk about what it means to be human, each of us as individuals is traveling through our individual lives, but this is a collaborative thing we’re doing here.”

Finding Common Ground

Sasser, who also directs the Gerontology Program at Marylhurst University, says she applies the motto in her own life by making sure everyone’s life experiences are honored and respected.

“We figure out together how to behold complexities, embrace complexities. Be afraid, but be afraid together,” she says.

Heatherington, founder and CEO of FamilyCare, Inc. in Portland, remembers first feeling a sense of community when he became a song leader in Glee, a former song competition initiated by Willamette freshmen.

“It was a wide awakening that I could call on people to work together and help other people,” he says.

Dabbeni, founder and executive director of Adoption Mosaic in Portland, spoke of her experience as a woman of color and a person with learning disabilities. Throughout much of her time at Willamette, she says she’s had to rely on others for help.

“I thought I was getting something from these people, and there’s no doubt that I was,” Dabbeni says. “But what I didn’t realize was that I was giving back to them.

“Almost all of my note-takers are still my friends. It broke this age gap, this disability gap, it brought awareness, and it brought community. And through community we can do great things.”

Acosta, a high school English teacher and founder of the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership in Tucson, Ariz., spoke of his two homes while at Willamette — his fraternity and the theatre.

When grappling with his bi-racial identity, he spoke to his fraternity brothers and told them, “Don’t fear me because I’m brown.” His brothers attended his performances in the theatre, and soon he saw his theatre friends at the fraternity parties.

“Our campus is so small, we started breaking down those walls we’d put up. These walls are all over the real world, right? But not here,” he says. “You start to create a new lens, one that says ‘You are my other me.’”

• Article by Natalie Pate ’15, politics and French/Francophone studies major