Surprising Paths

 

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“I  would want to give myself a pat on the back and say, ‘It’s going to be OK. It’s just going to be different than how you first imagined it.’” That’s the advice that Susan Senator C’84 G’85 says she’d give to her younger self about what life would be like raising a child with autism. Senator, the author, most recently, of The Autism Mom’s Survival Guide, is profiled in “Notes to a Younger Mother,” by Gazette frequent contributor (and former associate editor) Susan Frith.

In her first book, Making Peace with Autism, which a Gazette reviewer called “filled with warmth and humor,” her blog (susansenator.com), and Survival Guide—which, as a cover note clarifies is “for Dads, too”—Senator paints a vivid, honest, sometimes harrowing, and often joyful portrait of life with her autistic son Nat, husband Ned, and their other two boys Ben and Max.

She does not stint on the challenges of raising an autistic child—in one passage she describes Ben, the youngest son, fleeing in terror from Nat; in another her own shortlived attempt at “running away from home” out of sheer exhaustion. She’s also no martyr, and is emphatic on carving out time for her own needs and finding space for the rest of the family to enjoy each other’s company. But what comes through most strongly is her generous embrace of life and her intense love for Nat, this boy—now a young man—who, she says “just is who he is.” (See the excerpt on page 36 for a funny and touching demonstration.)

Back in the early 1970s, the road ahead seemed clear for the members of the rock band Wax: sold-out shows, top-selling records, stretch limos, and all the other trappings of rock-and-roll stardom. With a lineup of mostly Penn students, they were University City’s most popular band and one of the rising groups in Philadelphia, playing at venues like the Electric Factory and opening for the Byrds. Like magic, they got a recording contract, went into the studio and recorded the songs for an album, and seemed poised “to be really big,” as one of the band’s founders, Rick Levy C’71, put it at the time.

That didn’t happen, for a variety of reasons, some financial, some personal, all pretty random, and the bandmates have followed some twisting paths since—but perhaps the strangest turn was the one that brought them back to their beginnings some 40 years later. That story, combining personal tragedy, the very unlikely discovery of a lost tape, and a reunion that mixed “jubilation and wistful nostalgia,” is told in “When Wax Was Hot,” by freelancer Geoff Ginsburg C’91.

Few would claim that Benjamin Franklin is underappreciated, especially in these parts. But Penn History Professor Michael Zuckerman C’61 argues that in one area—public education—his contributions don’t get their due, especially compared to fellow Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, who is generally lauded as “a visionary pioneer of public education in America.”

After demolishing the case for Jefferson (who, among other betrayals of his avowed principles, tried to raid a fund for educating the poor to add to the coffers of the future University of Virginia), Zuckerman offers a lively and thoughtful discussion of Franklin’s philosophy—and crucially, actions—on how best to educate the general populace, including his developing views on the capacities of women and African Americans.

Finally, in the case of “Art History Lessons,” by Gazette Arts&Culture blogger Molly Petrilla C’06, the path is a literal one—a campus tour of artworks both well known and not that leads to a current exhibition at the Arthur Ross Gallery. That show, titled Naked, features works in a variety of media ranging from the first century BCE to the present, all celebrating the human form. If all you know is Ben and the Button, you’re in for a revealing treat.

—John Prendergast C’80
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