With the class of 2009 graduating on May 23, I’m curious about what the graduates took with them – lessons, experiences, insights – as they encounter these challenging times in the “real” world.
What I recall when I left the University of Wisconsin was that I wouldn’t have to struggle through a poem whose meaning eluded me, nor would I be expected to stick my hand in the air to answer a question about the required reading, at least not at 8:30 on a Monday morning.
Well, at the age of 49, I came back to campus, the St. Thomas campus, relearning some lessons, gaining new insights and rejuvenating my spirit. These were outright gifts, and I hope the 2009 grads left with a few of them.
They begin with a realization of the interdependence of the parts and people of this world. One discipline is linked to another; new theories in physics instruct new possibilities for theology. Aristotle’s Golden Mean is as relevant in a newsroom as it is at a philosophy round table.
With three required theology and two required philosophy courses, students are equipped to define themselves beyond job or status: to be thinkers, seekers, listeners and givers. I watched one of my students at St. Thomas spend time at the side of her mother, who was battling cancer, teaching me about courage and compassion.
The artful side of St. Thomas gives students the means to add context and color to their lives. Once or twice a month, I would slip over to the chapel and listen to a student practice the organ. Sometimes he made it rumble and roar; sometimes it was soft and sweet. Whatever he did, I followed. And I also followed the soulful sounds of the Liturgical Choir as it practiced.
If St. Thomas taught me to listen again, it also taught me to read again. I discovered a small volume of poetry in the UST bookstore by Leslie Adrianne Miller of the English Department, and a poem titled "Temporary Services:"
Each morning now I go to the calculator
And take a moment to run my rate of pay
Against the hours, remind myself what
I’m worth to them, to this world which is,
After all, substantial. And I am trying to find
A way to take heart in with me, but I see
How the best lines wither under the repetition
Of the functional: Information services –
Help you. Two days to find out what
They produce here: Reams of numbers, words
Cold and dry as paper in the mouth.
The poem is a powerful reminder of the spiritual desert that work without purpose and life without passion can be. If this year’s grads are as lucky as me, St. Thomas will have given them the gift of passion.
It was never more obvious than in a postcard from two of my broadcast reporting grads a few years ago, as they traveled across the country looking at television newsrooms.
“Nim, we saw the sea lions for you on Pier 39 (in San Francisco). All is going very well. Even if we don’t get a job, the trip has been worth it. We’ve made some good connections. Heck, we can always write a book on how to plan a road trip. We’ll see you when we get back. And don’t worry, Nim. We’ll remember you when we’re famous.”
Now, they are both mothers, raising small children. And one is the managing editor in a big-city television newsroom.