Jorge L. Tapia, Jr. '68
Jorge L. Tapia, Jr. '68 died July 30, 1996.
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On graduating from Amherst 25 years ago, I faced the world full of great trepidations and expectations. I arrived at Amherst at age 16 with very little exposure to the world outside of the South Bronx.
In 25 years, with an appetite engendered at Amherst, I achieved a certain level of personal and financial fulfillment in a career in dentistry that still has a great appeal to me even as I see so many of my colleagues leaving the profession as the restrictions and impediments become overwhelming.
I have seen much of the world, having traveled extensively to over 35 countries. I have grown to the point where I know, accept and feel good about myself and live a life with no regrets of dreams unfulfilled. However, with the request to submit an entry for the Reunion Yearbook, I have focused differently on my life and my dreams of where I was to be 25 years after graduation and notice something amiss.
The truth is that although I consider my life a personal success and deem myself a perennial optimist -- the world I envisioned on graduation never evolved.
My home has always been in New York City despite years of having a dental practice 60 miles north of the city in Newburgh, New York. While gaining all the advantages of life in the big city, I also get a magnified somewhat grotesque picture of the ills of America in New York's deteriorating condition.
Who would have dreamed on graduating from Amherst that in 25 years race relations that were in such ferment in 1968 would have progressed so little. That the streets would be teeming with the homeless and mentally unstable. That violence would reach the heights it has reached and no one could control it.
I came into my practice when the dentist I worked for, a colleague and a friend, was murdered by a stranger. My own father was shot and killed in his home by an intruder intent on robbery. Such first hand exposure to violence tends to chisel away at anyone's optimism.
But worst still -- I could never have dreamed of such a nightmare as the AIDS epidemic that has destroyed and taken the lives of so many personal friends and patients. Just as Vietnam was our nightmare 25 years ago, AIDS is our nightmare today.
Yes, things have become a bit bleak, but in the past few years, an important positive change has occurred in me. After years of social apathy I found that personal fulfillment is not enough without commitment. I have realized the need to work to bring about changes in the world around us – to try to control the violence, to care for all people, and change attitudes on gender, race and life styles. I have also realized that an optimistic attitude is not enough without a bit of cynicism to flavor it – to question, to doubt and not to accept blindly.
And now, especially after 12 years of callous government and the advent of a new administration in Washington, I believe that changes are on the way – changes that can make a difference maybe even by the time of our 50th reunion.