Brian Abel Ragen *87, a professor of English at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for 25 years until his retirement in 2013, believes that rigorous study in the humanities benefits everyone, regardless of career path. To reinforce his commitment to education, he created two graduate fellowships in English at Princeton and named the University as a beneficiary in his will. He is a member of the 1746 Society, which acknowledges those who have included the University in their estate plans.
Why are you a 1746 Society member?
I want to make it possible for graduate students to be involved with a serious community of scholars and keep Princeton attracting the best graduate students. I hope that by my gifts I will be able to make Princeton—a place that was important to me and to the history of our country—still better.
What often moves me about Princeton is thinking about who was here before me. When I was a graduate student walking around campus, my eye always was caught by the stars outside the dorm rooms for the men who didn’t come back from war. And I’d think about their classmates, too, who went on to become government leaders, business leaders, writers, and teachers. What makes a truly great institution is its heritage. For institutions like Princeton to keep doing what they do so well, we have to keep investing in them.
What’s your best Princeton memory?
Among several that come to mind: moments with my freshman English students (as a lecturer from 1984 to 1988) in the basement of McCosh, when their insight and creativity elevated the windowless classroom; and moments with my professors, particularly John Fleming, who assisted me with my first publication on a biblical allusion in Chaucer.
How do you want to make a difference?
I want to encourage humanities departments to keep in better touch with alumni, even those not in academia who are using their training in different ways, whether that’s in business or government or the non-academic professions or simply in their personal, social, and civic lives.
I’m trying to further this wider view of graduate education through support for Annual Giving and through my legacy of graduate fellowships.
Thanks to Princeton…
I have a fund of memories, mostly very good, and had a wonderful career in which I think I did some real good. I made lifetime friendships at Princeton and explored avenues I might not have, namely a scholarly interest in heraldry, which was launched with an article on semiotics and heraldry, written in the basement of Fine Hall.
What do you look forward to?
Another gathering like the “Many Minds, Many Stripes” conference [held on campus in October 2013]. It was great to see graduate alumni welcomed back. I hope graduate alumni will come back to future conferences to see old friends and meet new people in other fields whose lives have taken them in different directions, all thanks to Princeton.