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Guiding the Path

Below is an opinion piece written by Jim Walsh, ’69, reflecting on his time at Southern Connecticut State College in 1962 and the valuable guidance he received from John Orestes Iatrides, professor emeritus of political science and CSU Professor. This piece was published in the Connecticut Post on January 3, 2024.

Iatrides founded the Political Science Department during his tenure at Southern.

Click here to see the original article.

I moved from New Haven to the Boston area just 50 years ago. In the years following, occasionally, I would stop by the office of Professor John Orestes Iatrides at Southern Connecticut State College, as it was known then, to say hello. In 1962 I left the factory floor at Armstrong Rubber Company in West Haven and began my freshman year at SCSC. I was the first in my family to attend college and I’d come in through the back door (it’s a long story). Tuition was $50 per semester, $100 per year. I lived at home in West Haven and commuted. My father worked the second shift at the Bridgeport Brass Company. My mother was a householder. My sister was in high school. Being given a path to a college education was life-changing and from my first semester onward, Professor Iatrides was an important guide on that path.

In 2002 I stopped by his office, but he wasn’t in. I learned from a colleague that he was about to retire. She told me there was a party was coming up and that I should attend.

When I walked in he was surprised to see me but he and his wife, Nancy, warmly greeted my wife, Judy, and me. They even invited us to sit at his table. I had the opportunity that afternoon to say a few words that have mostly faded from my memory. But their aim has not faded. Not for a moment. They were meant to convey to him — and to everyone else in that room — my most profound thanks for his presence in my life.

For the five years I spent at Southern he was there for me, steadily, and taught me much more than the contents of a college course. He taught me to write, for instance. While my one year of Latin as a high school freshman taught me the structure of the English language and wide reading introduced me to a variety of styles, it was he who took the time to go over my attempts at essay writing, sentence by sentence. “Awkward,” was his most common comment.  But, years later, on my final exam in my last course from him, he gave me a grade of 97½. It is possible, I suppose, that it was a little self-congratulatory on his part. With a raised eyebrow and sideward glance, he was saying, “Look how much I’ve taught you?” But, whatever the explanation, it was memorable to me.

Between 2002 and 2019 I had no contact with John Iatrides. His old email address didn’t work. I was a busy fellow. I traveled less to New Haven. After the death of my father, my mother moved north so that we could better care for her. Life can be crowded.

In June of 2021, not knowing what his situation might be, I called a number I had for his younger wife, seeking to know his situation before I contacted him directly. But it was he who answered. Nancy’s health had deteriorated. She lived in assisted living. He lived alone and visited her almost every day. He would soon celebrate his 90th birthday. We agreed to meet the next day.

I then spent some hours composing a long email to him, detailing my gratitude and appreciation for all he had given to me. I wrote, “The opportunity that was given to me to attend college and the great gift of your friendship, teaching, and guidance, has allowed me to be a better person and a better citizen. None of my faults are attributable to you but perhaps some of my virtues are.”

He responded, “Just collected your email from my “Suspect Mail” box. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow to explain away all the things you blame me for.”

We remain in contact. He is a wry, playful, 92 years of age. And he causes me to ponder how different things are for young working class kids of today than they were some 60 years ago.

I recently walked the campus at SCSU with an old friend and fellow Southern student, a former editor at the New Haven Register, Jack Sopko. We encountered a faculty member. “How much is tuition at Southern these days,” I asked. “$10,000,” he replied. But it was an underestimate (it’s now more than $12,800 per year). Since 1962, the cost of basic tuition and fees has increased well over 10,000 percent!

The generation that preceded mine made sure that a working-class kid like me could afford to go to college and build a life. Kids in my position these days can go to college and build … an incredible amount of debt. And, because I made the Dean’s List, my tuition was refunded. Hard work paid off.

Finally, while I think I have productively repaid the investment that was made in my education, I remember another student who was given the chance I was and who went on to repay that which was provided to him on a grander scale. The late Eugene McCabe was a great friend in those days. Among other things, it was the “Civil Right Era” and we were both committed to racial justice, he perhaps more than me. He was a Black kid. Gene went on to become the founder and president of North General Hospital in Harlem.

Dr. Iatrides and I still see and write to one another. His sense of humor and intelligence is a sharp as ever. And my gratitude could not be deeper.

Jim Walsh attended West Haven High School and Southern Connecticut State. He has lived in Nahant, Massachusetts, for 50 years.


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