By Matt Mezger ’13
This past summer I spent six weeks studying in Paris, through a program sponsored by New York University and affiliated with Lafayette College.
I lived in a residence occupied by students in the study program in which I was involved and with students from all across the European continent who had internships in the city.
Our residence was two blocks away from the old Bastille prison. Although the prison no longer stands, it was very moving to be so close to the origin of the French Revolution where so many Frenchmen lost their lives for the cause of freedom. I commuted to my classes daily on the metro and witnessed so many facets of French culture — everything from the street performers, to mothers with their children, commuters to work, and the occasional homeless person. I took classes in a building with a view of the Eiffel Tower in the 16th arrondissement (the name of districts in Paris). My courses were taught in French: One was focused on advanced grammar and the other on an in-depth look at French culture and current events in French society. The second was especially interesting because the events of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair were developing simultaneously.
In Paris, I visited le Louvre, la tour Eiffel, la Cathédrale de Notre-Dame, l’Arc de Triumph, etc. In addition to those famous sites, I also traveled throughout France — each region and department are so different from one another. Our group went to see Omaha Beach, one of the American landing sites for D-Day, Montpelier, and the Loire Valley to see the various châteaux along the Loire River.
Seeing the grave of the Marquis de Lafayette in Picpus Cemetery was quite a moving experience. As I first walked into the cemetery where the Marquis rests, I was quite happy to see a common sight from home: the American flag. Seeing that flag there reminded me of how Americans have had just the same amount of impact on the French as the French did on Americans.
Seeing his grave had a twofold meaning for me. As an American, his tombstone represented a young courageous man who came out of his own free will to fight for the freedoms that the American Revolution embodied. As a student of Lafayette College, seeing his tombstone represented the entire College as a whole.
Lafayette College is named in honor of the Marquis because of the qualities that he had, and his grave represents all that Lafayette College stands for and what we strive to accomplish. The Marquis dedicated his life to make sure that every individual has the right to speak his or her mind regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or creed. And I am proud that these are some of the very things that Lafayette College does, following the example of the Marquis.
Matt Mezger ’13 (Mount Bethel, Pa.) is pursuing a double major in history and government & law and foreign language. A resident of the Arts Houses, he is vice president of the Arts Society.