September 25, 2003

Hageman Lectures on 'Sublime Madness' of Change

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Most often the American Dream involves a person of humble beginnings rising to a position of power and status in society. However, according to Ivan Hageman, helping others is the true measure of power. Speaking to a standing room-only audience, Hageman spoke to students, faculty and community members yesterday in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall.

In a lecture titled “A Harder Thing: Discovering My Work in East Harlem,” Hageman chronicled his “rites of passage” as a man. The major theme of his speech advised students that in order to change the world one must have “a certain sublime madness” he said, quoting philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr.

Throughout his speech he quoted authors, poets and philosophers that inspired his development. He also urged the audience to “once a day, try to engage all the senses at the same time.” By this method, he explained, people can clear their minds and relieve stress. He also encouraged the audience to take action and “think about how we treat the earth.”

Ed Pettitt ’05 agreed with Hageman: “I liked the concept about an agent of change being sublimely mad; leaders need to shake things. … Going along with the status quo won’t get you anywhere.”

Hageman and his brother started the East Harlem School at Exodus House in 1993 as a manifestation of their “madness.” The middle school provides a unique educational opportunity for inner-city children of East Harlem. Not only must students excel in academic areas, but they must also learn “a certain moral development and politeness,” Hageman said.

The school’s unique attention to “the entire student” caused it to be featured by NBC Nightly News, Teacher Magazine and the New York Times. Graduates also attest to the school’s effectiveness, with over 40 percent continuing to the top preparatory schools on the Eastern Seaboard.

Hageman explained that growing up, “I sought to be the best at everything with a certain righteous indignation.”

His parents were a racially mixed couple who ran a center for drug rehabilitation in East Harlem. They sent him to a preparatory school in Manhattan.

“I was whipsawed between classes, races and neighborhoods,” he said.

After attending Harvard — and graduating in three years — Hageman decided that he wanted to try teaching. Frustrated with the accepted teaching styles, he and his brother built the school on the site of their parents’ rehabilitation center. The school grew quickly from the first graduating class of four students to the current size of about 60 in grades five through eight. Two alumni of the school also participated in the lecture, adding commentary regarding their individual experiences.

Students responded positively to Hagemans’ message.

“[It was] refreshing, the way he freely addressed taboos. Students appreciate him speaking to us as peers,” said Manuela Hess ’04.

Indeed, Hageman temporarily addressed his discontent in the situation in the Middle East and the lack of the type of respect he implores in his school.

The lecture, part of the Iscol Family Program for Leadership in Public Serivce, derives sponsorship from Ken Iscol ’60 and his wife, Jill. The couple spoke briefly about their mission of action and praised Hageman for his multiple contributions to public service.

Archived article by Steve Angelini