A punchy little word with possibilities

Only writers, I suppose, would get excited over a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the subjunctive mood. I certainly did. I pondered as I

Roop Hall (photo by Diane Elliott)

threaded the traffic on Reservoir Street on the way to work this morning. (If Harrisonburg were to synchronize their lights, then I would get here faster. subjunctive.)  I’ve always liked the subjunctive ever since my college grammar teacher explained all of its ramifications and how it is deciphered. It is an optimistic part of speech — in large part because of the little word “if” that so often accompanies it.

“If” is a word that exudes hope. If I were president. If I were rich. It’s a punchy little word with lots of possibilities. “If” has shown up in music that symbolized a generation. Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer” comes to mind.  And then there are the delightful possibilities imagined in Tevye’s optimistic rendition of “If I Were a Rich Man” in Fiddler on the Roof.  Imagine how dull these song would have been without the optimism of the subjunctive.

“If” is a powerful word. What if this?  What if that?  It is a word that propels us forward. Starting a sentence with “if” feels like being shot out of a cannon and getting to pick where one lands. Everyone uses it.  Students use it often like this: “If I study hard, then I’ll do well on my test.” And some say: “If I can make next semester’s tuition ….”

“If” is a little word with a future — a word to dream by.

But if “if” is the dreamer, then “then” is the doer. It’s what comes after the “if” where change occurs. If this, then that. For colleges and universities, one phrase might be: “If our endowment were larger, then…” or “If we were able to fund more scholarships, then….” Just imagine these possibilities.

Sometimes “if” is a call to action. Last year, when JMU issued a charge to help students hit hard by the economic downtown through Madison for Keeps, many Madison folks finished the sentence with “then I can help.”

For college graduates who have benefited from education, the challenge of “if” is great. It becomes a responsibility. “If I were to change the world, then I would do this….”  Many of our Be the Changers have, no doubt, said this.

This week on JMU’s Be the Change page, we are featuring longtime friend, benefactor and alumna Inez Roop (’35). She and her husband Ralph made the leap from “if” to “then,” when they funded numerous scholarships.  They must have thought: “If we give this much, then….” History would prove that their “then” has had a lasting impact on thousands of lives.

“If” requires a leap of faith into a haystack of possibilities. It is a lovely little word we should never relinquish and never underestimate.  I wonder how many Madison people have used it this way: “If I do this, then I can change a part of the world.”

To read more about Inez Roop, visit: http://www.jmu.edu/bethechange/stories/Roop-100Dukes.shtml


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

One Response to A punchy little word with possibilities

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