Thursday, September 5, 2013

All College Day morning comments

Several people have asked for a recap of my comments in the morning session of All College Day 2013.  I appreciate the interest and have reproduced those comments below.

I want to spend just a few minutes talking about purpose and teamwork.  I’ve yielded some of my time during this portion of the day to Chris Breitmeyer because I believe that Chris has a lot to say on these same topics.

 We’ve just heard several stories that speak to the power of purpose, and of teamwork.  We can’t do anything alone – that’s one of the lessons that we learn again and again in life.  And we can’t do or accomplish a thing unless we believe that we can, unless we set a goal and chart a path, unless we’re prepared to take a few risks, and unless we have a little faith that we can get there - together.

Some recent examples here of persevering in this way include our enrollment efforts of this summer, the relocation of our nursing & allied health programs, and our ongoing long range planning efforts.  I’d like to think, though it may be my imagination, that we are learning new ways to think together and to work together as we chart the path to our ongoing success and that of our students.

I’ll talk more in the break-out sessions about these and other projects and factors influencing our success.  I’d like to use this time to tell you a story – my own story – about purpose and perseverance.  Bear with me – I have a reason for sharing this.

Most of you know that I lost my first wife to cancer.  She became ill at the new year 1997, was diagnosed on January 10 and died 29 days later on February 9.  She died a month short of our 20th anniversary.  She was 43; I was 40.  Our three daughters were 9, 13, and 15.  She had been my life partner since a blind date the summer after my freshman year in college.  And she was everything to her daughters.  It was, in short, a devastating loss and life change for all of us.

While it may not show now, I was, at the time, an avid cyclist.  I rode distances and even raced occasionally – although the latter not too successfully.  That summer – the summer following my wife’s death – I decided that the bike would be my therapy and my safe space.  “No bad thoughts on the bike,” was my mantra for the summer.

I rode whenever I could and while I rode I thought about why I was here, how I would cope, and what my purpose was to be going forward.  I thought about what my daughters would need from me and what I would need from them if we were to get through this.  I thought about what divided us – even our individual grief was dividing us at the time – and what united us – our love of one another and our desire to be well and to keep the promise that we had made to their mother that we would be O.K..  And I thought about how we could become this new family no longer containing my wife and their mother.  Before I knew it I had ridden 2,000 miles and had begun the work that we needed to do to move forward from our loss.

It took communication, trust, partnership, courage, honesty, admitting when we were overwhelmed, lifting one another up when we could, and loving one another.  But we managed.  We moved on, we grew, life went on.  Sixteen years later I now have 5 daughters and have been married again for 14 years.  Life has continued.

I share this story not as one of loss or sadness, but nearly the opposite.  I share this story for the lessons I’ve taken from it about persistence, perseverance, purpose, trust, and growth.  There are lessons here about what defeats us and what sustains us; what unites us and what divides us, what moves us ahead and what does not.  I’d like to share a few of these here before turning things over to Chris.

When we believe that we are the victims of our circumstances, this defeats us.
When we believe that we can manage and grow through what life throws our way, this sustains us.

When I believe that I am in this alone, that no one can help me, this defeats me.
When I believe that I am not alone, this sustains me.

When we believe that there is only what was and no new path forward, this defeats us.
When we believe that there is a future to be built, this sustains us.

When we feel that our individual contributions are not valued or central to our shared success, this divides us.
When we know that what we contribute is vital to the whole, this unites us.

When we fail to recognize or understand the importance of the role others play, this divides us.
When we take the time to recognize the interplay of all that we do and its importance to the whole, this unites us.

When we fail to communicate openly and honestly with one another, this divides us.
When we make the time for honest and courageous communication, this unites us.

When we discard or reject new ideas, new ways of thinking about or doing things, this divides us.
When we embrace new ideas and dare to consider new thinking, this unites us.

When the fear of failure outweighs the courage of our convictions, this divides us.
When we dare to risk failure in pursuit of success, this unites us.

When we fail to trust one another this, more than anything, divides us.
When we place our trust and faith in one another this, more than anything, unites us and empowers us.

I have said many times, this is a unique and special working and learning environment.  I believe strongly that we have what it takes to be a united and sustaining community, one in which anything is possible and everything is within reach.  I am excited about this new year and honored to serve with each of you.  We are up to our challenges and ready to embrace new opportunities.

My pledge to you is this.  If we all keep driving forward, I promise not to steer us off a cliff.  My personal commitment to you in this year is to be less in my head and in my office – easy places to find oneself in a job like this, and more out and about.  Thank you for all that you do and I’ll now turn it over to Chris Breitmeyer.

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