Sunday, August 26, 2007

It's About to Begin and I'm Oddly Calm

Well, it's happened again -- another summer has fled by in a flash, and a new semester is about to begin. Classes start on Thursday where I teach, but the festivities begin tomorrow with a welcome celebration for the new students. I'll get to get decked out in academic regalia and parade in with the other faculty to the astonished (I like to think awestruck) gaze of new students and their parents. I must confess I do like this moment. I like this reminder of the monastic roots of higher education. I like the dignity, and the connection with history. I like the colorfulness. I like the way that this moment expresses to the new students: "education is serious, and grand, and you are about to embark on something totally new and different in ways you cannot yet imagine."

I know that George Fox and other early Friends were dubious about higher education, and for good reasons that are still relevant today. But even though Fox was critical of what was actually happening in Universities in his day, he did value education. He thought it was very important. In his writing and speaking and ministering, he was constantly intellectually engaged with important philosophical and theological ideas being debated during his time. I think that the way I and many other Quakers in higher education are engaged in our work harmonizes with his own ideals about education and ministry.

Am I ready for the start of a new year? Not quite, but I'm strangely calm about it. I feel confident that I will be ready when I must be. My progress so far in getting ready has been slow and calm, and I've let it be slow and calm. The pace will pick up soon all of its own accord -- no need for me to force it.

There are several new faculty members in my building, and I just love their enthusiasm and excitement. I've been enjoying meeting them and telling them with warm sincerity how much I have loved teaching here. I see them take this in with gratitude, maybe even a little amazement. I remember how, just before I started here, as I was leaving another college where I had taught a course, a professor there was so pleased that I had landed a tenure-track position at a small liberal arts college, and said, "you are going to love it even more than you yet can realize." What a great gift he gave me in saying that (because he could already see that I was quite happy!) -- he set me up with the expectation to be on the alert for happy surprises as I settled into a new life. He was telling me not to be afraid of my joy, and in fact to expect more. I have treasured these words over the past eight years, and will treasure them forever. At the end of my first year here, a senior faculty member commented to me that she had never seen anyone so consistently happy in their first year of full-time teaching before.

Even though I have had my share of difficulties and get ground down by how busy the academic year gets, it is true that I have really loved this, and that it has been better than I was able to imagine back before it all began.

I wish this for my new colleagues, and for the new students as well. And so I am happy in this shining energy of new beginnings.

No comments:

Post a Comment