Photo provided by Coleen Grissom
Frankly, it’s quite challenging to respond coherently to the request of Noelle Barrera, Special Sections editor, for a column reflecting on Trinity in the past decade. I moved into the un-air-conditioned little apartment in the Heidi Lounge in 1958, so decades are piling up confusingly on me. As surely you’ve read somewhere, as one ages, one recalls distant events more clearly than recent ones. But I’ve always been a responsible person, so I’ll try to comply with Noelle’s instructions.
By the beginning of 2010, I’d been retired from my administrative role as vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students for a decade, moved out of that elegant Oakmont mansion and begun my life in the boonies. No longer charged with responsibilities for overseeing student life issues, I became “just a teacher.” I avoided committee service, advising and scholarly research; I just focused on introducing students to contemporary fiction and endeavored to guide them in writing with “simplicity, lucidity and euphony.” Divorcing myself from administrative chills and thrills, I still kept myself apprised of such matters by regular reading of this student-edited newspaper and friendships with the likes of David Tuttle and Chuck White. I can assure you that not once did I regret being retired from an administrative role. I loved and have always loved just being a teacher.
Coming full-time into this role, I was able to witness the slow but sure evolving of Trinity into a premier institution of higher learning that continued to attract bright, engaged students but that now attracted them from much wider geographic areas and from many more ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. In my earlier decades here, we attracted mostly white students with little need for financial assistance and ones who could easily travel home to Houston for the weekend.
Walking into my classroom lately, I’ve seen for the first time in my many decades here young adults who have only one aspect in common. As with those who came before them, they have remarkable abilities and promise, but they are different in that they represent many races, faiths, political beliefs, religious beliefs, sexual orientations and gender identities. These changes both challenge and enrich me as a teacher and seem to me to be the most significant ones of this past decade.
This “new” student body has motivated me to become more open and accepting of differing interpretations of the literature, to welcome opinions and views I have never before dealt with in a classroom. Is this hard? As my daddy would have said, “You bet your bottom dollar” it is. Is it rewarding and invigorating? Same answer.
I loved being a part of this academic community when homogeneity ruled, and yet, being here growing and changing as the university itself changed has delighted and enriched me in innumerable ways. I cherish that Trinity built on its strong history, its covenant and its abiding commitments to grow into what it is today, generously equipped to provide superb education for the 21st century.
My wishes for my students don’t seem to change much in spite of the passing of decades, so I close with a rehash of them as this academic decade comes to an end:
Do let “simplicity, lucidity and euphony” characterize everything you write; try always “to say what you mean and to mean what you say.”
Endeavor to accept and to cope with the knowledge of the sacrifices of your family and the generosity of donors who have enabled you to have the enriching experience of a Trinity education. Consider becoming a donor yourself one day.
Learn to value your own company. Consider D. H. Lawrence’s “To be alone is one of life’s greatest delights, thinking one’s own thoughts, doing one’s own little jobs, seeing the world beyond and feeling oneself uninterrupted in the rooted connection with the center of all things.”
Learn to appreciate the absurd; please cultivate a sense of humor to help you deal with whatever life throws at you.
Consider following the advice of John Hoyt, former president of the Humane Society, “Figure out what you care about and live a life that shows it.”
And, I certainly wish that you, as I have, will achieve what Katherine Graham describes, “To love what you do and feel that it matters. How could anything be more fun?”