Microcosmocation

I recently had the privilege of working in the regalia room with the Student Learning and Transitions team during Nipissing University’s Convocation ceremonies this spring.  One of the jobs I performed in the regalia room was to highlight students’ names on a list as they returned their regalia at the end of their ceremony.  I came across a lot of familiar names and faces in that role, but one student stood out in particular.  Let’s call her Wendy.  

I remember the day Wendy moved into residence for the first time.  She was an early arrival back in 2012.  She had permission to move in a few weeks prior to the usual move-in day because she was trying out for the soccer team.  I was working at the front desk of Chancellors House at the time, and we had this list of all the names of students who would be moving in.  I had her fill out some forms, handed her a set of keys, and highlighted her name on the move-in list.  She was officially checked in at Nipissing University.

Over the 3 years I worked in residence, I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to personally welcome over 800 students into the Nipissing University community on their respective move-in days.  One at a time, smiling warmly, welcoming them, and highlighting their names on my list as their supporters looked on.

This spring I got to be one of the last people to personally wish over 600 graduates well as they ventured off to the rest of their lives.  One at a time, smiling warmly, congratulating them, and highlighting their names on my list as their supporters looked on.

I hadn’t seen her much these past 4 years, but somehow I remembered Wendy’s name.

“Wendy, do you remember me?” I asked, “I moved you into Chancellors House 4 years ago.”

To my surprise, she did and she gave me a great big hug.

She seemed to stand noticeably taller and spoke more confidently than she did that day 4 years ago, and it made me think about how much a person changes over the course of 4 years – especially those particularly formative years.  So much learning happens in university, both in and outside the classroom, it’s like an entirely different person emerges at the end of it.  So it seemed from our brief chat, Wendy had indeed changed and grown.

I also thought about how much I’ve changed in the past 4 years – the learning I’ve engaged in, and the varied experiences I’ve had that have helped me grow into a very different person than I was when I started working here 4 years ago.  So much of that learning came from the students I’ve worked with.  Wendy’s impact over the 4 years of her degree was on much more than herself – she personally impacted me and made me think, and I’m sure many others who knew her could say the same.

I thought about how much we all have grown as professionals in that time.  We’ve been through a lot over the past 4 years and we’ve all certainly changed and grown because of it.  We’ve all learned a lot from the students we’ve interacted with, from each other, and from the challenges we’ve faced together.

In the 4 years since Wendy walked through our doors for the first time, Nipissing University has changed as an institution.  We have undergone significant changes in personnel, programs, facilities, structures, policies and procedures.  Many of these changes are influenced by the needs and demands of our students, prospective students, and alumni.  In essence, Wendy and her cohort have taught this institution things that will continue to influence its development in the coming years.

Even more broadly, we see changes in who is attending university and changes in the outcomes for our graduates.  What a university is, does, and what it needs to be changes over time, if only in minute ways over the course of 4 years.  But, think about what a university was and who attended in your parents’ generation and compare that to what it was when you attended or what it is today.  Think about the meaning of a bachelor’s degree today, and how this has changed in just a generation.  Every student who makes the choice to attend university, what they choose to do when they’re here and what they do as alumni has an influence on this, and over time all those people add up to a world of difference.

We are so lucky to be able to work in this great microcosm of growth and societal change, but it’s only sustainable if we ourselves remain dynamic and constantly open to learning.  It’s up to universities like this one and all our staff and faculty to keep up with our students, learn from them, and to promote meaningful development in all of us for an ever-changing context.

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“one is the all”