Hopes and Homespun Notions for 2009

The prospect of a new year generally prompts some reflection upon the passing one and a wish list for the one to come. Over the years, my reflections have been more generous than grumpy and my wishes more modest than magnificent.

The year 2009 is likely to be challenging for governments, companies, families . . . and universities: Make do with less. Plan ahead. Get used to sacrifice. Learn to live with uncertainty.

With these admonitions in mind, I harbor a few hopes and homespun notions for St. Thomas in the year ahead.

A renewed appreciation for the liberal arts: Sometimes, among the new buildings and programs, the core of a university can be taken for granted. In the middle of the Christmas Concert last month, I realized what a lively and lyrical music program we have. These kids can sing. They can also play the trumpet, trombone and French horn. The symphonic music is gaining strength, style and spirit.

When St. Thomas puts its best foot forward in public, it could do worse than to make a joyful noise. But music is only a part of the best. We also have poets, philosophers, paleontologists and political scientists – the very stuff of life and the study of the human condition.

A knock-out commencement speaker: I am always amazed at how “connected” the graduates of St. Thomas are. So, let’s put one or two of them in charge of finding someone who would attract a little media attention, come with a thought-provoking message and deliver a speech with a few memorable lines, or at least points to ponder. I’d love to see Colin Powell, Thomas Friedman or Toni Morrison walk up on that stage. I know these speakers can be a little pricey, but every four or five years I wish UST would splurge.

A push for the new student center: Money is tight and times are tough. But I hope there’s resistance to seriously scaling down or pushing back the timetable for the Anderson Student Center and the Anderson Athletics and Recreation Complex. The thought that St. Thomas needs a “living room” for its St. Paul campus is more than public relations hype. One of the fondest memories I have from my undergrad days at the University of Wisconsin is sitting in The Union, along the shores of Lake Mendota. It was there I met my friends, took my father and danced to the music of Duke Ellington and his band. The undergrads, particularly, need such a gathering spot, and if we’re going to preach faith and fitness, we’d better have a place for them to work out. They’ll find such facilities just down Grand Avenue at Macalester and 40 miles down the interstate at River Falls, Wis.., to name just two schools.

Finally, considering the challenges in 2009, let’s hope for a little more patience with one another and a lot more good will toward one another. Happy New Year.