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After 25 years, McDaniel College holds a final German-American Day

For the last time, McDaniel College opened its campus to about 800 high school and college students for German-American Day on Tuesday, ending a tradition after a quarter-century.

McDaniel has held the event to inform students about German culture and literature while celebrating the country’s customs for the past 25 years, but when McDaniel cut its German program earlier this year, it also meant the end of German-American Day.

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The event was the brainchild of Mohamed Esa, a professor in McDaniel’s World Languages, Literature and Culture department.

“My idea was to build bridges between colleges’ German programs [and] high school and middle school German programs," Esa said. "So, to give these kids who might have never had the chance to be on a campus and deal with German culture outside of the classroom, maybe through TV or videos, a chance to come here for an educational day about German culture, history and hoping that they will really leave with a better appreciation for German culture.”

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Esa said he is sad about the program coming to an end after what he has put into it.

“It’s like a baby you raise and then a decision is made to kill the baby and that is the way I feel about it," he said. "This is the feeling I have where I didn’t have a chance. So, it’s not like I decided to end it. The teachers are very, very, very sad that it’s ending so this is something nice for the kids. ... It’s not like I don’t appreciate what the college has done, I do tremendously, otherwise I would not be here.”

On Feb. 23, the McDaniel College board of trustees voted to suspend five majors, including German, and two minors. The college called the move a reinvestment that will allow it to redirect funds into programs with stronger enrollment and retention or that show more potential to grow.

Esa said he isn’t bitter.

“Bitter is the wrong word," he said. "Yeah, sadly [this is the last German-American Day]. But c’est la vie, hopefully we can start a program like this at a different college in Maryland that has a German program.”

Students attended panels on topics such as local German immigrants, attending school in Germany, applying for jobs in Germany, German music and more. Schools such as Westminster, South Carroll and Liberty high schools have participated in all 25 years of German-American Day. Schools attend not only from Maryland but Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C. All invited schools teach German.

This year was the first year of McDaniel partnering with Goethe-Institut, Germany’s official cultural institute.

“It’s very bittersweet. We, of course, hope ... that we can keep the spirit of German-American Day alive in the future and I’m sure we’ll be talking about that a little bit more to see how we can make it happen after Dr. Esa is no longer here and the German program ends here at McDaniel,” said Eileen Sellman, a language program officer with Goethe-Institut.

Goethe-Institut added a career day component, which allowed students to “get a glimpse of the career opportunities that open up for them with German language proficiency be it studying in Germany, studying here in the U.S with German, working in Germany [or] working with Germans here in the U.S.,” Sellman said.

The German Society of Maryland, which promotes the preservation of German culture, the study of the language and the keeping of German traditions, has been a longtime supporter of German-American Day.

“We supported this yearly, we support the German-American Day here at McDaniel financially, as well,” said Shirley Santora, director of the German Society of Maryland. “I think this is a very sad decision on the part of the McDaniel trustees to discontinue the German program. Dr. Esa is known nationally and internationally. I think his presence here helps put McDaniel on the map."

Students inside and outside of the German program expressed that they felt connected to the day of learning.

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“I didn’t expect this event to he as huge as it was. It’s surprising how many people showed up,” said volunteer Bryan Herrera. "I like the community sense of it, all the events that are going on, how diverse it is. I learned a bit about German myself — just how their education programs in Germany, like tuition is free, they have a lot of grants and scholarships available, a lot of transfer programs.”

The day hit one German major particularly hard.

“I’m very disappointed in the school. I feel like this isn’t the route they should have taken and there are other options available to them," junior Matt Pelletier said. "Also, I’m really sad because one of the main reasons I’m still at the school is because of the German professor, Dr. Esa, because I realized after my first year here that I really didn’t want to do linguistics. I stayed on because of Dr. Esa and then they cut the program."

Pelletier will be able to finish his degree within the German major because anyone already enrolled in a major at the time of the decision is able to graduate in that major. He plans to eventually move to Germany, work as a registered nurse and later earn a master’s degree.

He said he feels for the students who won’t be able to participate in German-American Day in the future.

“I feel awful because there’s so many kids here from all over, not only Maryland but kids from Virginia and I think there’s a school from Pennsylvania," said Pelletier. "It’s amazing because there’s so many kids here who maybe never would have known about McDaniel College, coming here, seeing the campus, eating here, meeting professors. It’s a great opportunity to bring in numbers for the school and now it’s over.”

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