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Quaker Lights

They’re alumni Friends—and friends

“There’s a Quaker phrase I believe down to my bones,” says Ed Stabler ’51. “Let your life speak.”

His always has. And, in a twist of Swarthmore serendipity, it’s now in conversation with Brian Ratcliffe ’11’s.

Since becoming friends at their Quaker meeting in Syracuse, N.Y., Stabler and Ratcliffe touch base every Sunday and occasionally get together for coffee. Their far-ranging conversations span everything from scholarship—Stabler’s a professor emeritus of computer engineering; Ratcliffe’s simultaneously completing two master’s degrees, in ecology and public administration—to service.

“When I was about 40,” Stabler says, “the terrible prison riot at Attica occurred, where state troopers fired on prisoners lying prostrate. I was so shattered to hear about it that I began volunteering in prisons with Quaker worship and Alternative to Violence workshops.”

“I was so moved when Ed shared that story, how he saw injustice and felt a calling to serve,” adds Ratcliffe. “I had a similar impulse when I was trying to transition into my environmental justice work: Faced with massive problems, I can’t not take action.”

Leaving behind a vibrant theatrical career in Philadelphia, Ratcliffe moved to Syracuse to study with Professor Robin Wall Kimmerer, a renowned Native American botanist.

“I wanted to understand ecology from every angle while also learning how to best navigate governance,” he says. “Ultimately, I want to go into environmental policymaking, particularly on behalf of indigenous communities.”

“Brian and I have talked before how, in his chosen profession, he’s going to face complications: Every major policy decision can have both wonderful and terrible consequences,” Stabler says. “It’s daunting, but he’s a really thoughtful, good guy—I believe Brian will make the world a better place.”

After all, Stabler’s got quite a stake in the future: He’s a father of four, a grandfather of seven, and a great-grandfather of a new baby boy.

“For my family, the idea of doing good in the world has been ever-present,” he says. “I’ve been impressed seeing the adventures and risks taken by Swarthmore students in an effort to do good, too.”

“Those Swarthmore hallmarks are very much on Ed, as well,” Ratcliffe says. “He’s such a compassionate, well-rounded guy with a beautiful outlook on the world and our potential to improve it.”

Ratcliffe could say the same of several other Swarthmoreans—in early 2016, he began volunteering for Philly Thrive, a grassroots environmental justice organization founded by clean-air activists including Dinah Dewald ’13, Zein Nakhoda ’13, and Alexa Ross ’13.

“It was instructive and meaningful to work with these powerful grads who are younger than me,” says Ratcliffe, who also conducted grant-funded research last summer with the group. “It feels cool to be learning from Swarthmore alums below and above me. What I see that we all have in common is a shared effort to make broken systems better.”