Most people see the culmination of four years of college as the final walk across the stage at Commencement. However, two Hobart and William Smith seniors, Matthew Foody and Megan Whalen, see the culmination of their experiences as a "March."
While their classmates take the stage for Commencement Ceremonies on Sunday, they will be among 17 HWS students touring important Holocaust and World War II sites in Germany and Poland as part of the March of Remembrance and Hope. Through this program, students have an opportunity to travel and interact with Holocaust survivors and academic scholars in the field.
Neither student found it a difficult choice, but did have to face the difficult task of telling their parents that, after four years of waiting, they wouldn't get to watch them graduate.
"Part of me is disappointed that we're going to miss seeing him receive his diploma," says Foody's mother, Colleen Foody. However, she says that she and his father understand the value of Matt being part of this historic event. "What more appropriate way for him to end this chapter in his life than being part of the March of Remembrance and Hope? We're very proud of him."
Whalen's parents also understood. "They were surprised, and my Dad is a Hobart alum – and I'm the last child in the family – so it was a little hard for them at first. They realize, though, how significant something like this is for me and that it's much more beneficial to me than a ceremony."
She says this is a chance of a lifetime, particularly because they are joined on the trip by survivors of the Holocaust. "How much longer will they be able to share their experiences on the March? The trip experience will go on without them, but it won't be the same."
The group will be traveling with Maud Dahme who was a "hidden child" during the Holocaust – a term which describes thousands of young Jewish children, sometimes incredibly young, who were given away by their parents during the Holocaust to courageous Christians with the hope that they would be spared the horrible fate of the adults. After liberation, she came to the U.S. and ultimately had a distinguished career as an educator and educational leader in New Jersey.
Foody, a history and political science major, international relations minor, always had a deep interest in that time period in the World's history and in the Eastern Front of World War II. He sees this as a unique chance.
"It was a clear-cut era of good versus evil, and this trip is a limited privilege to get insight from people who were there; it's a rare, one-time opportunity and a nice way to commemorate my whole college experience," he says.
The trip takes place from May 15 through 23. HWS participated in this trip previously, in 2003 and 2006. Students will visit monuments and memorials that commemorate the once thriving Jewish cultural centers in Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow and Lublin that were destroyed during World War II. They will walk through the death camps of Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau where life ended for millions. Students will be able to confront firsthand the remnants of that period and to think about and try to understand the factors that can lead to genocide and the horrible consequences of genocide.
"It is a tribute to these students and an indication of how they view this program that they are willing to miss their graduations for the privilege of taking this trip and having this experience," says Michael Dobkowski, professor of religious studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, who will accompany them on the trip.
In the above photo, Evan Brown '08 visits a concentration camp as part of the March of Remembrance and Hope trip in 2006.