As we move into the seasons of giving thanks, I wanted to take this opportunity to share my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to all of you for your relentless and tireless work to ensure that our students are learning and being supported to achieve their dreams and aspirations. I’d also like to take this opportunity to share a reflection on the power of thankfulness and, in some cases, how our defined roles blind us to opportunities to further spread the requisite human thanks.
Recently while traveling and waiting for a curbside pickup at San Francisco International Airport, I observed an elderly gentleman navigating with a cane and pulling his roller carry-on suitcase to a position perched close to the edge of the curb. As his ride inched closer to picking him up, the driver was unceremoniously directed by traffic enforcement to move along. Simultaneously, a young woman (skateboard and backpack in hand) witnessed this social interplay and jumped into the mix alerting the traffic cop and gently assisting the elder to his car. To his credit, the traffic cop acknowledged his overly officiousness and with graceful empathy also assisted the venerable traveler.
I share this story as a reflection that in many cases our predefined, ascribed, and socially defined roles create human barriers that ultimately limit opportunities for human kindness and thanks. In this brief social encounter (likely not observed by anyone else but me) both the traffic cop (directed by a no-stopping rule) and the anonymous traveler (it is socially acceptable to not get involved) could have stayed in their respective role definitions and not intervened leaving an elder man in need.
All of us as actors in higher education play roles – both predefined and ascribed. In some cases administrators do X because a policy or procedure demands such behavior. In other situations, teachers do X because that is what the syllabus requires. These roles are impermanent and time bound to the life clock that monitors our careers. The same is true in life, the role of a partner (or spouse), child, sibling, niece or nephew have both real time role expectations and timed-out expectations driven by mortality. In both journeys, we have choices to act solely in a predefined manner or act out of role addressing presenting variables that transcend a moment in time.
So during this season of giving thanks, I am grateful for all of you who in both your work and personal lives step out of prescribed roles governed by safe and oftentimes narrow social assumptions and demonstrate compassion and solicitude driven by broad human expectancies. I am thankful, given the high stakes of achieving student success tempered by life challenges facing our learners, for your collective care.
Please find time to relax and enjoy during the holiday break.