A college reunion can be a mixed affair. There are easy cliches, fearing comparison of one’s career or circumstances post graduation. My return to Van Mildert College did not focus on these worries but rather marvelled at the achievements of the current students and academic staff.
At the University of Durham, the Van Mildert College motto is “Sic vis non vobis”. A rather obscure quote from Virgil which can be translated as “not for ourselves”. Virgil uses the line to say that oxen sheep birds and bees all labour for the benefit of others and so should we. Bishop Van Mildert, who founded the University, and after whom the College is named was found with this fragment of Latin text in his papers at his death struggling, maybe, to make sense of its meaning. Students at Van Mildert have used this motto as an inspiration to build an impressive programme of outreach that existed even in my days as an undergraduate. Now the work is so extensive that in 2017 Van Mildert won the University, regional and national Green Gown Awards www.greengownawards.org and was a finalist in the international competition. The current programmes include work in six areas. These include work with young people of 14/15 from local schools in disadvantaged areas, helping them build confidence and skills. This culminates in four days residential in the College giving them a taste of University life. There is also a project with primary children acting as teaching assistants and giving extra help to those struggling and those high flyers needing stretching.
Some students visit elderly people in the locality providing friendship and company. Students also visit the Aycliffe Secure Centre where youngsters are mentored in difficult circumstances where they are detained for their safety or for public safety. Finally there is an environmental project which works with local conservation groups and works to do projects around tree planting litter picking and the like. The motto or its English translation appears on many doors and posters in the College building a community of selfless giving and outreach to the people in the locality and further afield.
Surely this is education at its best, encouraging a wider engagement and experience of life outside of the usual hothouse of College and University life. I did not look back with rose tinted glasses at my experience but embraced the future in the hands of these outstanding young people.