One afternoon during my freshman year I walked back to my dorm room after finishing classes for the day. No sooner did I close the door and lay down my backpack than I heard a door slam and a knock on my door. It was my neighbor, Doug.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“Nothing,” I said. “I just…”
“Good. I need your help.”
“…finished classes and I was going to study.”
“You can study later. I just bought a couple of speakers for my stereo and I need someone to help me carry them back. They’re at a store out at the mall. If we hurry we can catch the next bus.”
“Bus? You want to bring back speakers on a bus?”
“Yep. C’mon. Wait until you see these things.”
Like a fool, I went along. It was only when we arrived at the mall, though, did I truly understand why he needed some help. This was back in the day when bigger equated to better, and these speakers were what would then be considered the best. Each of the two speakers had a woofer—the main speaker—that was 18 inches in diameter. Other smaller speakers were also built into the unit, which was about three feet tall, made of wood and must have weighed 2,500 pounds—or so it seemed as we struggled to carry these monsters through the door and down the aisle of a crowded metro bus.
After dropping them off in his room, word quickly spread about Doug’s new purchase. They garnered pretty much everyone’s attention, including Don, the resident assistant on the floor, who was obviously concerned that Doug would use them in the way they were intended to be used—loudly.
The following afternoon, Don walked out of class in a building a block away and heard music blaring from the general direction of our residence hall. Immediately realizing where the music was coming from, he broke into a sprint. Upon arriving at Doug’s room sweaty and out of breath, he started pounding on the door as hard as he could. No good. The music was so loud inside no one could hear Don’s pounding on the outside. With nothing to show for his efforts but sore knuckles, Don quickly came up with Plan B: He went to his room and called Doug’s room, hoping someone might hear the phone ring. Someone did.
“Open the door.”
That was, essentially, the end of the speakers. As I recall, a limit was placed on how far Doug was allowed to turn up the volume on his stereo, and I believe the limit was two—out of 10. After spending who knows how much money on massive speakers with 18-inch woofers, Doug wasn’t allowed to play them at a level much beyond that of your typical elevator music.
Doug’s speakers story came to mind the other day when I heard a story about a Xavier student, Mark Manning. It’s interesting how students approach college. Yes, every college student is going to have his share of fun and probably does something that, if he survives, leaves him with a story to retell over beers every Reunion Weekend. But some students use their time more wisely, more productively. They do things like get internships or co-ops or jobs that help them gain experience and get a job after graduation.
Doug wasn’t one of those people. Manning is. A student in the Philosophy, Politics and the Public honors program, Manning earned an unpaid internship in the mayor’s office over the summer. After reading a report about Cincinnati’s declining population in June, Manning approached Mayor Mark Mallory about examining the report. The numbers, he said, just didn’t seem right. OK, Mallory said, have at it.
Manning was right. The numbers were wrong. His work determined there was a miscount of 22,000 people, meaning Cincinnati actually increased its number of residents. That translates into big changes in the amount of federal money the city receives for grants, the per-capita crime statistics and even in perception. Suddenly, after Manning’s work, Cincinnati is bigger than Pittsburgh and Tampa.
Mallory called a press conference to announce the findings and give Manning his well-deserved pat on the back in front of the TV cameras the newspaper reporters. Manning gave a nod in acknowledgement and then had to leave in a hurry. It turns out he had another commitment—he had to go to class. Now that’s a good approach to college. Some students make news; others make noise.