After a lovely summer break — during which I very much enjoyed my annual visit to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and at the end of which I earned my Brown Belt in the NIA Technique — I’m looking forward to blogging my fifth year as Sweet Briar’s president.
To mark the opening of the year, I’d like to share with all of you the charge to the community that I delivered during opening convocation. I hope it conveys some sense of the joy with which we begin the 2013-14 academic year on campus.
“At this point in the ceremony, it is customary for the president to deliver a charge to the community for the year ahead. Personally, I find great value in the time I spend pondering what to say at this moment. I ask myself what I would want to say to you if I could only ever say one more thing: what I would want to remember myself if I could only ever remember one more thing. This year that one thing came to me with great clarity.
I dare say that every one of us in this room – every member of the faculty, every member of the staff, every student – is here today because she or he fell in love. Maybe that happened decades ago, or maybe it happened months ago, but some time or another it surely happened.
Personally, over time I’ve fallen in love many many times: first I fell in love with words and the English language, and then I fell in love with the life and light generated when young people get excited about ideas. I become enamored of the company of people who choose to live the life of the mind, and then I became enthralled with the beauty and history of this particular place. And most profoundly, I fell in love with the idealism of campuses – places where communities aspire to live life the way it should be, the way we want to make it be for everyone everywhere.
For each of you, it was different, I’m sure. Maybe you fell in love with the precision of making a working model of a canal lock, or with the elegance of a mathematical equation, or with the exhilaration of leaping across a dance floor, with the mastery of communicating a complex thought in another language, or with the infinite curiosity aroused by immersion in another century, or another culture. Maybe you fell in love with the way it sounds when your bat really connects with a softball pitch or with the fluency of a canter across an open field. Maybe you fell in love with the achievement of a job well done; of providing support to a questioning student, of completing a complicated audit cleanly, of making an old piece of equipment hum smoothly again, of seeing a room transformed with paint and carpet. But whatever else you fell in love with, I feel sure you, like me, fell in love with living, studying and working among people who know your name, regard you with respect, and who notice if you’re troubled or if you’re rejoicing.
My charge for this year: remember the loves that brought you to this place, this time, this academic year. We are among the luckiest people on what my grandmother would have called God’s green earth. We have the rare good fortune of being able to choose work that we love, in community with others who have chosen to be here with us. Remember that and cherish it!”