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U.S. Sen. Chris Coons greets Jessica Borcky, UD Student Government Association president, at this year's Constitution Day event.
Though she never took a class from the
late James R. Soles, Brenda Mayrack learned some life lessons from the
beloved University of Delaware professor of political science.
And the Class of 2000 graduate also became a part of Soles' legacy,
which was honored Monday, Sept. 16, as part of the third annual
Constitution Day James R. Soles Lecture on the Constitution and
U.S. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware delivered the lecture, connecting
226 years of constitutional history to events relevant to today.
Like a family patriarch, Soles' passion for public service has given
rise to an ever-growing number of UD alumni connected by a shared
commitment to community engagement. Many of them were gathered at the
Perkins Student Center Monday, joined by University President Patrick
Harker and Provost Domenico Grasso.
After graduating with dual undergraduate degrees in international
relations and women's studies, Mayrack joined the Soles' public service
family by becoming the third James R. Soles Fellow.
She fulfilled her fellowship at the Washington, D.C.-based Center of
Public Integrity, founded by UD alumnus Charles Lewis, spending seven
months writing investigative journalism stories connected to the
then-new Bush administration.
Soles was a mentor to Lewis.
Since that time, Mayrack has become a solo private practice attorney
in Wilmington, moving back to the state after pursuing her graduate work
at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She volunteers for local
political campaigns and helps get UD students involved, paying Soles'
"His legacy lives on," Mayrack said, because those he touched
continue to give back and pass on his commitment to serve their
This year, Soles' legacy is even more poignant as the University
endeavors to achieve community engagement classification by the Carnegie
Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It is part of UD's
strategic plan to become an engaged university.
A task force
was created this year to support the University's application, due next
April. The foundation awards the elective designation only once every
five years to universities that demonstrate, as a whole, a rigorous
commitment to community engagement, to addressing societal issues and to
working toward the public good.
The task force is represented by multiple departments and units on
campus as well as the public and is led by Lynnette Overby, director of
the Office of Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning. Its work
is already underway, gathering an inventory of the University's current
efforts and partnerships.
The hope is that the process of seeking classification itself will
inspire renewed and elevated community engagement across the University,
something which certainly would have earned Soles' approval.
"He inspired many to pursue a lifetime of service to the larger
community and to do more and contribute more in their own lives and in
their work than they had ever imagined they would or could," Daniel
Rich, professor of public policy and administration said Monday. "...Jim
Sole's life and work exemplify the University of Delaware's identity as
an engaged university."
Joking that he was the bronze medal of invited speakers for the
celebration, following past Constitution Day lecturers that include Vice
President Joe Biden and longtime Delaware political figure, U.S. Sen.
Tom Carper, Coons recalled the last time he saw Soles before his death
in 2010. It was at a campaign fundraising party Soles held at his Newark
home on Coons' behalf.
"He was the professor who always had his office hours open," Coons
said, referring to himself as the junior student, seeking advice from
Soles on how to balance family life with his career in the public and
Coons' memories of Soles launched into a reflection on the
Constitution -- Soles found heroes in some of its authors -- and how
some of the big questions of both then and today were left unanswered.
More than two centuries ago, privacy, security and liberty were of
primary concern to Americans, just as they are today. He provided
commentary on National Security Agency surveillance of American phone
records and on the tensions in Syria around the country's use of
chemical weapons on its people.
And he discussed citizenship and civic responsibility, addressing the
millennial generation, "the tail end of whom are in this room" and who
have the "prospect of being the greatest generation."
The gridlock they have witnessed in Congress most of their young
adult lives, the wars the country has been involved in since many of
them were in middle school, have done damage. Many, Coons said, are
shunning public service as elected officials. At the same time,
millennials are volunteering in record numbers.
"We have to be a more engaged, a more committed and a more civil
society," Coons said. "It's not just paying taxes, serving your jury
duty and voting but it's also knowing who you vote for and conveying
your thoughts in a constructive, meaningful way."
Coons looked around the room, at the growing "family tree" planted by
Soles and the young faces of those whom will have never met him but
have nevertheless been touched by him: "We need you to take up the cause
of civil engagement and breathe life into the body of the
That's what Jim Soles stood for.
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