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Our Turn: Creating a home for the humanities

Published: 10/14/2021 6:00:06 AM

Today, led by our friend Ken Burns, we are taking the next step in launching a very special enterprise on the campus of Saint Anselm College.

What, you may ask, besides our common location in New Hampshire, do a retired healthcare professional, an automobile executive, an iconic documentary filmmaker, and a 132-year-old Benedictine college share in common? The short answer to that question is Greg Grappone, our beloved son who graduated from Saint Anselm in 2004 and who passed from our lives far too early in 2015 after a courageous struggle with a lifelong illness.

The longer answer has everything to do with the kind of life Greg lived and the kind of life we are seeking to inspire in others, especially young people.

Our son spent his life appreciating and seeking to understand the world around him. At Saint Anselm, his love of books naturally led him to declare as a Great Books major so that he could explore the most profound ideas and questions that have informed human existence. Great books were not just the foundation of Greg’s education, but his steadfast life companions. He relished the stories they told, the wisdom they offered, the challenges they presented, the conversations they provoked and the love they encouraged. His teachers at Saint Anselm remember Greg fondly as a student who was typically quiet, but whose intellectual gears were always turning and whose depth of curiosity and understanding shone forth when he spoke.

During the final months of Greg’s heroic struggle with cancer, he engaged in daily correspondence with his dad and Ken Burns, which centered upon the daily Calendar of Wisdom created by the great Russian author and philosopher, Leo Tolstoy. Greg’s mom christened this daily meditative ritual “The Tolstoy Trio.”

Not long after Greg’s passing, a providential coincidence took place. We were contemplating a meaningful way to honor our son’s memory. At the same time faculty members at Saint Anselm were seeking to strengthen and enliven the humanities, which have always been at the core of the college’s mission. Our visions happily collided when we made a substantial pledge of support to found the Gregory J. Grappone ’04 Humanities Institute in 2018.

Within its first few years, under capable leadership, this Institute has flourished in creative and innovative ways, animating the humanities in the lives of students and people well beyond the Saint Anselm campus. This afternoon, we will gather with many others in front of a historic building at the center of Saint Anselm’s campus to announce a $2 million capital campaign that will transform this building. With the vision and support of many people, we are determined that in a little more than a year, we will be able to welcome New Hampshire into the Gregory J. Grappone ’04 Humanities Institute.

We are humbled and honored to have our friend Ken Burns serve as the honorary chair of this campaign and we are inspired by the faculty and leadership at Saint Anselm who have helped us translate our family’s grief into an enterprise so beautifully fitted to Greg’s pursuit of truth. Like Ken, we believe that now more than ever we all need to do what we can to enlighten our minds, feed our souls and lift our spirits and those of others by heeding the instructions of Tolstoy: “You have to embrace what the wisdom of humanity, your intellect and your heart tell you: that the meaning of life is to serve the force that sent you into the world. Then life becomes a joy.”

Twenty years ago, Saint Anselm established the New Hampshire Institute of Politics with the intention of promoting and fostering civil discourse in our state. Today, even as the acrimony and divisiveness among us often seem greater than ever, and even as we all grapple with the many uncertainties of our own time, we invite you to help us create a home where young people and people throughout New Hampshire, can lift their spirits beyond our present worries to contemplate the meaning and purpose of our lives and our shared humanity.

When Greg steeped himself in the study of the humanities at Saint Anselm College, he couldn’t have imagined the brevity of his own life or foresee how his love for the humanities would foster a permanent home for their cultivation on the Saint Anselm campus. On behalf of Greg and his sisters, Gretchen, Gina, Amanda and Allison, on behalf of Greg’s teachers and the many people whose lives will be touched and transformed by his legacy, we invite you to join with us and Ken and Saint Anselm in bringing this noble enterprise to life. For what we really share in common is what we all share in common — our humanity.

(Robert and Beverly Grappone live in New Durham.)

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