Condon benefit shows us the real ‘Allegheny advantage’

I have never met Allen Condon. I suspect few current students have, despite sharing many of the same professors, classes and Allegheny experiences as him — after all, he didn’t graduate from here that long ago. Regardless of those facts, and regardless of the heavy snow that blanketed Meadville, the Gladys Mullenix Black Theater in the Vukovich Center was filled close to capacity last Sunday afternoon, and I was in the audience.
The state of American healthcare is worthy of its own op-ed — several, honestly — and it seems deeply immoral to me that anybody suffering from cancer should be so inundated by the costs of their own care, the preservation of their own life, that a community should need to fundraise in this way. The Allegheny community’s support is heartwarming. It is also heartbreaking. But I digress.
I expected the usual crowd to turn out on Sunday: theater department faculty, Student Experimental Theatre members, Meadville Community Theatre and Academy Theatre mainstays, the core group of Meadville residents that attend every Playshop show. But that’s not how Allegheny works. I should’ve known better, expected more.
The entire community — and more — showed up to give their support. The program did not even start with a performance, but rather with a heartfelt video message from Condon’s former academic and senior comprehensive project advisor, Associate Professor of Psychology Lydia Eckstein. In the audience were both current faculty members who started their jobs after Condon graduated and retired faculty members who returned to campus to support their former student. Students from Instructor of Dance and Movement Studies Betsy Sumerfield’s class, some of whom matriculated just last year, performed a dance number. Community members who saw posters taped to the counter at French Creek Coffee and Tea or at the Market House masked up and put their cars in four-wheel drive to make it up North Main Street and support their fellow Meadvillian. Other community members who have no doubt spent long tech rehearsals with Allen at the light board prepared performances, and some of his closest friends from college sang and danced their hearts out for their friend. President Cole quietly slipped in and watched from the back.
It has never been more clear to me that the ties made at Allegheny are strong — perhaps even atypical. Sure: our culture, for the most part, places high sentimental value on those four years spent as an undergraduate. But along with that is the implication that those years are fleeting, finite; that once they end you will never go back. The dorm doors lock for the final time, your ID no longer works at the library, your email address is deleted and you stop getting those sweet student discounts.
In the case of these superficial qualifications of college community members, Allegheny falls right in line. I am hard-pressed, however, to find an alum that does not feel they always have some sort of home waiting for them “yonder on the hill.”
Case in point: when I saw the way the community rallied around Condon last weekend, I felt certain that any given department would do such a charitable thing for any given alum. Condon is, to his credit, a uniquely community-minded person, and Allegheny is a uniquely community-minded institution.
Maybe it’s my own ignorance, Allegheny being the only institution of higher education that I have attended, but I struggle to imagine that this benefit would have happened at any old college or big university, where students are statistics — squares on a Zoom screen or names on a tuition bill — instead of people who live and learn alongside one another.
Allen Condon, on Sunday, was surrounded by a tight-knit, loving community of people who society says should have left his life forever in 2016 and people who have never even introduced themselves to him — myself included. I hope to change that soon. That’s the real Allegheny advantage.