In Memory of Will Gary: Secure Passage


I like to make up aphorisms, or little sayings. Recently, I made one up about the New School:

“How can you tell a New School Student? Watch them walk through a revolving door.”

I’m sure you understand what I mean but I will explain it anyways. I’ve noticed that all the students here (and the staff, too, I’m sure) are revolving door experts. They look at the entrance to 66 W 12th Street with no compunction, marching right into the grinding mill of its entrance without skipping a breath. If I was walking and talking with you, and we approached the entryway, we would stop the conversation, pass through the door, and restart it without pause or awkwardness. I’ve never seen such efficient adaptation to a specific type of entrance. Revolving door misgivings expose a tourist, or a visitor, or a newcomer. It’s like using an umbrella in Seattle or pronouncing Houston Street like the city in Texas.

When 66 W 12th Street security guard Will Gary died last semester, I heard a lot of different students say, “How did he remember everyone’s face?! How did he know me instantly, know that he didn’t need to check my ID?” One option is that Will Gary was some sort of savant with faces; there are 10,000 students at the New School at any given moment, and all of them have to take liberal arts classes, most of which take place at West 12th Street. Perhaps Will Gary was the Rainman of liberal arts students and he could simply remember. Sure, he’s some sort of super man. He could have fooled a casting director.

That’s one option.

I don’t believe that’s the answer, though. I think Will Gary was an observant, intelligent person but that he wasn’t a facial-recognition bot, because to believe anyone is a machine like that makes them less human, not more. I believe Will Gary understood the intrinsic adaptation of a New School student – their ability to fluidly pass through a revolving door – and that he used that as his marker. If someone showed no hesitation towards the door, he would extend his right hand just as smoothly as the rotors revolved and give a shake, or perhaps give a fist pump; maybe stopping the conversation he was carrying, maybe not. However, if the revolving door caused an entrant temporary reluctance, he would instead smile broadly and welcome the newcomer, directing them efficiently (“Yes, the event is happening in the auditorium, directly there to your left”).

Gradually, as students walked by his desk, Will Gary would remember them. He would castigate them for being slightly late, or push the tray of dry leftover catering a little closer to the ones with deep circles under their eyes, those leaving later than 10 pm. Then they would wave goodbye and push the bar of the revolving door, flowing back into their extra-curricular lives.

That ease of passage between our exterior lives and our lives inside 66 W 12th Street is one of the keys to the uniqueness of the New School, especially our adult division, New School for Public Engagement (NSPE). Again, there are two schools of thought about NSPE’s relative aloofness. Some students say that they wish there was more of a community, and some are thankful that they don’t have any additional obligations on top of work, family, and school. School spirit is tough to muster when someone is hungry at home, because the home team always wins.

Will Gary mediated these concerns. The constant gathering around his booth acted as a sign to those students who wanted community, because it was immediately clear as you walked through the revolving door who exactly was there to take their hand of friendship. He also never asked anything of students, if they didn’t have it; during finals week, any harried walking nightmare could simply pass by without even a greeting, no offense taken.

When I think of “security,” this is the only kind I want. I don’t want anyone who keeps people out. As opposed to some sort of defense against the outside world, Will Gary’s presence was a freedom from danger and a peace of mind.

I bet you didn’t realize that this wasn’t a eulogy, but a proposal – one I plan to submit to the administration forthwith. I suggest that we name the two revolving doors that bookend the lobby of W 12th Street William and Gary. We should name them in an official capacity with ornate shining plaques hung above each door and memoranda as to the reason. I want him to be the eternal protector of the New School, our guardian angel. I think we all do. I can think of no better way to summon his presence than to allow him to continue his good work, simply knowing the students who pass endlessly through our revolving doors.

12th Street Issue 7 is dedicated in memory of Will Gary.