When KaBOOM! CEO and founder Darell Hammond opened a copy of the Washington Post one morning 16 summers ago, he had little idea his whole life was about to change. An article about two local children caught his attention. Looking for a place to play, the children climbed into a car in the midst of a heat-wave and, unable to escape, suffocated. When Hammond learned that the nearest playground was three miles from where the children lived, he was compelled to act.
“No one was going to do anything about it, and the legacy of these two kids, unlike the legacy of me, was going to go for naught,” explained Hammond. This story ignited a passion within Hammond, kindling an idea into KaBOOM!, an organization that builds playgrounds across the country. From that one idea, Hammond has created a significant national effort, raised millions of dollars and inspired an army of citizen activists.
During Monday’s Convocation ceremony, Hammond shared the moving story — of how his simple idea was transformed into a national movement — with the students, faculty and staff who filled Stern Lawn. Convocation marked the opening of an academic year focused on the theme of the “Power of an Idea.”
“As we think about the year ahead, I would urge all of us to commit ourselves to ideas,” remarked President Mark D. Gearan. “My hope for the year ahead is that all of us – students, faculty and staff- can learn from one another; that we consider new ideas, and that we can advance ideas for change – both within our campus community and beyond.”
During Orientation 2011, more than 200 students in the incoming classes worked with Geneva community members to construct benches, slides and play sets at the Geneva Community Center, the Geneva Middle School and West Street School. Gearan invited Hammond to speak at Convocation in anticipation of those activities.
“Earlier this afternoon, I actually had the privilege and honor to go see the play parks that you have already left as a legacy about what is possible when you do something significant and worthy for other people,” Hammond told the audience, many of whom had participated in the Day of Service.
“Kids are spending their lives indoors; this has dire consequences,” said Hammond, citing the fact that only 52 percent of children in the United States have recess, and only 1 in 5 kids live within access to a park. “It is through play that kids get the opportunity to socialize, build, create, tinker and – most importantly – have fun.”
Hammond also urged students to take action – and not just with KaBOOM! or as part of an HWS Day of Service. “Service is the rent we pay society to live. Go out into the community, as you have already done, but make a habit of it – not a single occasion,” encouraged Hammond.
Also during Convocation, Professor of Women’s Studies Betty Bayer spoke on behalf of the faculty, inviting students to “take a deep breath.”
“Breath is time – it marks an ending and a beginning, a renewal. And here we are embarking on a new academic year,” said Bayer. “So here you are at the beginning about to have your breath taken away by the wonders of a liberal arts education; about to breathe new life into these Colleges.”
In reflection on the efforts of the incoming students to beautify the City of Geneva through service, Bayer spoke of the importance of green spaces and nature within our society. She highlighted how, throughout history, parks have served as calming forces for city-dwellers and as zones of peace for warring countries.
“This weekend, students labored to build and to revive playgrounds, places and spaces in which to thrive, to renew life and relationships,” said Bayer. “Parks and playgrounds allow us to live in the key of green, a key our brains take pleasure in, for our brains are, according to some scientists, nature buffs. It is through this key of green, and through walking these paths as wanderlusters – explorers, adventurers – that our brains focus, grow and breathe.”
“Speech is breath, too. Words moved some of the longest revolutions for human rights. Revolutions of nature are movements in thought, feeling and connection,” she said. “So, breathe in, breathe out: free your mind. Go wanderlusting in the key of green so that you can plot the path of your liberal education as one of a revolution.”
Professor of Economics Alan Frishman served as Faculty Marshal for the ceremony. Other speakers included Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees Maureen Collins Zupan ’72, P’09, and Student Trustees Jerimiah Booream-Phelps ’12 and Caroline Dosky ’12.