My grandmother lived alone when I was growing up, and my mother used to send me over to spend weekends with her. She owned two school buses at the time, and when she retired in the 1980s she had 64 buses and the biggest bus company in Florida. She just kept buying buses.
She was a real entrepreneur, a self-made businesswoman and a practical lady way ahead of her time. She gave me a lot of confidence, self-esteem and a sense that I could do anything that I wanted to do. She also made me proud of being smart. God gave me the gift of intelligence, but she made me proud of that. She made sure I used that gift.
I could not have asked for a better role model and mentor. She was the first of many fine mentors, a lifelong roster that includes my mother, my eighth-grade math teacher, my 11th-grade history teacher, professors and deans. I also have had the privilege of serving as a mentor to students and faculty during my three decades as a professor and administrator.
Those relationships have made a big difference in my life and, I hope, in theirs. I realized early in life that as smart as a person may be – or think she is – she can’t get by on smarts alone, nor can she succeed without building relationships and wanting to work with others.
If I have achieved anything in my career, it has been an ability to forge relationships and collaborate with people to achieve a greater good. I had a lot on my plate when I became executive vice president and provost of the University of San Diego eight years ago, and I knew I wouldn’t be successful – and, more importantly, that the institution wouldn’t be successful – if I didn’t reach out to others. I sought. I listened. And I acted, not on my own, but in collaboration.
I expect the exact same thing will happen at St. Thomas. I am fortunate to lead an incredibly vibrant institution that has prospered under the wise leadership of Father Dennis Dease and one of the strongest boards of trustees in the United States. I will look to them and to every constituent – faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni, benefactors and friends – to build a more vital St. Thomas that will continue to live out its mission to educate morally responsible leaders to advance the common good.
I also hope to share with you the light, the love and the grace that have been part of my life, instilled by my grandmother and my mother and constantly nurtured by mentors, friends and role models. I will help you, and I know you will help me.
Grandmama was the most courageous and successful woman I knew, but even she needed help. She was afraid of the dark, so on those weekends that I stayed with her, we slept with the lights on!
I don’t sleep with the lights on anymore, but I promise you one thing: my light will always be on for you. Stop in and share it with me.
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