2016 SAAHE Celebration, Words

Had the opportunity to speak at this year’s SAAHE celebration, and I wanted to share those words here.


Last year when I spoke at this event, there were two points of focus: adoration and placing students “first.” My, or our (your faculty), rather, adoration for each and all of you was expressed. And let me remind you that adoration is a deep respect and a kind of love. Those are things I feel, we feel, for you.

I also talked about this checklist I created before starting this job in 2011. The list was a way to remind myself to stay human and remember important things that can get lost in the never-ending state of busy that the academic year often brings. When we get busy, it’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves and other people. It’s also easy to make getting things written or graded or accomplished or achieved a priority, and then we forget to put students first. Sometimes putting students first is tricky, and it may not appear as if that’s what we’re doing. For example, sometimes your own absence is putting students first. But, if we can’t trace our actions within this work—student affairs, faculty, whatever—back to students, what are we doing? The first item on my checklist was “Whenever possible, put students first!”

So, now that I’ve given some context related to last spring’s talk, I am going to talk about two more things, different things, this time around. First, I am going to unleash the whole list I wrote nearly five years ago. You may find some helpful tidbits, as many of you are moving onto a new adventure very soon, just as I did five years ago. I will just read the list; you can use it as you like. Finally, I am going to wax poetic for a while on the word beauty.

Here is the list:

  • Whenever possible, put students first!
  • Take time for loved ones, dogs, exercise, and creativity every day.
  • Work on your own research and scholarship for at least 10 hours per week.
  • Always be reading an interesting book. The book doesn’t have to be about academic stuff, but it can be.
  • Keep up relationships with other faculty/academics/friends. Have coffee, get lunch, grab a beer!
  • Remember that students want class to be fun!
  • Don’t fret over things you don’t know. It’s ok that you don’t know everything. No one knows everything.
  • Get involved in a committee or two on campus.
  • Be eager to work with others on projects.
  • Start something new if it’s interesting.
  • Listen before you talk. Have compassion.
  • Remember that people’s lives are more complicated than you realize.

Again, do what you want with this. It’s helped me more than I thought it would. Consider making your own. Then leave it alone, and take it out again when you need it.

Finally, let me go on about beauty. Beauty is not glamour. Beauty is not about appearances. Beauty is not superficiality. Beauty is something else.

I recently listed to a podcast, an episode of On Being, which was an interview between Krista Tippett and John O’Donohue. John O’Donohue, now deceased, was a poet and philosopher who wrote about beauty. Regarding his work, Tippett said “He believed that the human soul does not merely hunger for beauty, but that we feel most alive in the presence of what is beautiful.” This passage was so striking to me. And I thought to myself, while trotting around the track in Ball Gym, you all must be beautiful! Do you know how enlivening it is to do my job, which is saturated with each and everyone of you? I know you’ve been witness to my being enlivened in the classes we’ve shared, and you have also, perhaps, read me as enlivened in the comments I have left you in assignment documents or inside feedback boxes in Blackboard. This may be a little odd, but what is beauty, really?

O’Donohue asserted that “Beauty is about more rounded substantial becoming. And I think when we cross a new threshold that if we cross worthily, what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition that were in us that had us caught somewhere. And in our crossing then we cross on to new ground where we just don’t repeat what we’ve been through in the last place we were. So I think beauty in that sense is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.” There is so much within his words here that pertains to you. You have been in the process of becoming, and you will continue to become. And that is beautiful. And you, you are beautiful.

You should be proud of what you’ve done. Think about it for a moment—what you’ve done. Think of the breadth, depth, and meaning. Think about the lives you’ve touched. Consider, for another moment, about the looks of your becoming. How have you been becoming? What has it felt like, who has been there, and what have been the contexts? Now remember becoming has no finale. It is not finite. How are you becoming right now? How will the past year or two of becoming influence the becomings of your future?

Let me soon come to a close here. In summary, use my list as motivation to make your own. Wherever you’re off to—think of the axioms that shall guide you and (re)center you. As you do so, remember the beauty on which I have just waxed poetic. You are beautiful. Perhaps “Remember you are beautiful” will be your first check on the list. More importantly, remember that just as I have been enlivened by you, you, too, will be enlivened—as I am sure you already have been—by your students, your colleagues, others. Just as I have told you today, that you are beautiful, remind them, too, and perhaps add something related to that to your list as well.

Thank you, and congratulations.

SAAHE Grads_2016


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