Greetings and happy holy days!
Many of you have asked where Anette is. I was afraid if I told you ahead of time that she wouldn’t be here, you might not come either. Actually, she’s in Germany. I’ll join her after winter commencement for the Christmas holidays.
She asked me to read a greeting:
A very warm “welcome” to everybody tonight!
I’m really very sorry not to be around tonight and celebrate this year’s “St. Scholastica`s Holiday Party” with you! It was for sure not an easy decision, but my only daughter is celebrating her 30th birthday and I feel I need to go.
But my thoughts will be here with you tonight and I’m sure you will enjoy this nice annual event – with all the wonderful decorations inside and outside, the season of lights, great company, good talks, wonderful food and all good memories you share with each other about 2013!
One memory I would like to share with you in this special season is our “Tanzania trip” in July. I’m very thankful for those experiences, those adventures! Before we started I was so often talking about my fears: Malaria, crocodiles, snakes (have you ever heard about the `Black Mamba`? Seconds after the attack you are in heaven!)— but when we arrived in Dar-es-Salam I forgot about it…I didn’t think about my little concerns! I fell in love with Tanzania! I saw the poorest people ever—materially, but not spiritually; I value water now more than diamonds; I felt little hands in my hands from children with sad eyes and they were all asking for a little bit of attention, a little bit of love! I saw wonderful colors, an amazing landscape, and I felt protected by all the wonderful Benedictine Sisters in Chipole and Imiliwaha! And Sister Beverly Raway really took care of us! I want to say thank you to all those people, to my husband, to the students and the faculty I met!
Again, I wish you all a wonderful night! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Thanks, Anette; we miss you, too.
Now I’d like to provide some College updates and share a brief Advent meditation.
Our enrollment this fall came in at 4,240, a new record. We are seeing a slight decrease in the traditional undergraduate numbers, reflecting three realities: a demographic dip in the upper Midwest; continuing concerns about affordability; and the impact of technology on place-based education. Our traditional population is now just under 2,000.
At the same time, we are experiencing continued growth in our graduate, extended and online courses. As we enter our second century, we are educating more so-called “nontraditional” students than traditional students. Graduate, extended and online programs also provide a kind of laboratory where we can experiment with new delivery systems and new formats, and then integrate some of the most successful results into the traditional programming. As an example of innovation, our faculty have now developed three MOOCs—one in anatomy and physiology, one in business ethics, and one in health care analytics—that together serve nearly 7,000 students. Not all of these folks will enroll at the College for a degree or even complete the courses for credit, but think about what it means that our total census this fall is 4,240 students—and that we are also reaching another 7,000 students through three MOOCs.
Our students continue to make us proud. Four of our current seniors majoring in accounting have landed jobs with Ernst and Young, which they’ll start upon graduation next spring – a significant achievement in their field, and a real testament to the quality of their education.
An all-time record of more than 900 volunteers, mostly students, fanned out across Duluth-Superior for our Community Day in October. They helped more than 50 non-profits, schools and parks and trails agencies with cleaning, planting, painting, preparing for winter – whatever was needed.
And did you see on the news that we produced our first national champion athlete ten days ago? Chelsea Johnson, a senior from Forest Lake, MN, won the NCAA Division III women’s cross country championship. She was also named the Women’s National Athlete of the Year by D-III coaches. Both are first-time achievements in the history of the College. Congratulations, Chelsea!
We are looking forward to opening our new Physician Assistant graduate program in the summer of 2016, subject to securing accreditation. In preparation, we have decided to open a second campus in Duluth that will house the PA program, and also expanded PT and OT programs—a graduate health professions campus. We are in conversation with developer Mark Lambert about new construction at his BlueStone site. He’s already put in upscale student housing and several retail operations.
We have also made the decision to take some of our health care programs to the City of Surprise, in the West Valley of the Phoenix, AZ metro area. This is a move we have been contemplating and researching for the past 18 months. We are interested in the combination of demographic growth, the increasing need for health care professionals, and the fact that—although there is a large Latino population—there is little Catholic higher education in the area.
We see the move in two phases. The first, which is underway, involves marketing CSS online programs and developing clinical connections with hospitals. If phase one is successful, phase two will involve opening some on-ground graduate health care programs. The site at Surprise has new space available for academic purposes, two hotels that could accommodate students, and the possibility of further expansion if we need it. Our thinking is that graduate health care programming will be resistant to becoming fully digitized, because of the clinical and hands-on components. Several selfless Duluth faculty have already volunteered for winter semester duty. Surprise!
We’ve also been working with a consultant to assess the facilities needs here on the Duluth campus. The big missing piece is a Student Union, a place where students can meet and hang out, and where student support services—together with health services, the mailroom and the bookstore and perhaps some dining areas—can all be co-located. In addition, we need to renovate Tower Hall, which is 100 years old, and Somers Hall whose dorm rooms are nearly 50 years old. And we have demand for some more new student housing on campus, as well.
Together, all these projects—BlueStone, AZ, and the Duluth campus—could total more than $100M over the next decade. We need to decide how best to sequence them and how to finance them—how much we can fund out of operations, how much we can raise, and how much we can borrow. In other words, we are in the very early stages of preparing for a comprehensive capital campaign that will include investments in facilities, in student scholarships, and in programming. As a place-marker, I’m calling it “the Campaign for the Second Century,” and I’m very pleased that John Labosky has joined my team as Interim VP for College Advancement to help lead us through a feasibility study this spring and into the silent phase of a campaign next fall.
Throughout all this change and the excitement of new possibilities, we are committed to hold on to our mission and values. They are our identity.
Our lovely Advent service this afternoon is one example. Advent is a sacred season. The word comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “a coming.” As we approach the winter solstice and the longest night of the year, we yearn for the coming of the light. For Christians, this is true literally and symbolically. As we read in the Prologue to John’s Gospel: “In him was life, and the life was the light of humanity. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
The Benedictine author, Sister Joan Chittister, has written that “Advent is often swallowed up by Christmas.” In her words, “Christmas is not meant to be simply a day of celebration; it is meant to be a month of contemplation. But because Advent has been lost somewhere between Thanksgiving turkey and the pre-Christmas sales, we have lost one of the richest seasons of the year” (The Liturgical Year).
It doesn’t have to be this way. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have Benedictine Sisters in our midst see something important: Real Advent is about learning how to wait productively. There are different types of waiting. Waiting can mean boredom; “hurry up and wait,” as we used to say in Army boot camp. Waiting can be restless and pointless, as in Waiting for Godot. Waiting can mean anxiety, as when we wait for the results of an important medical test. None of these are Advent waitings.
Advent waiting is slowing down, emptying out, letting go, centering, preparing. Let go of the rush, the media blitz, the sales pitches. Ease up, focus, go deeper. Prepare.
Advent waiting is about anticipating, reflecting, savoring. Anette planned a trip to Germany to surprise her parents on their 50th wedding anniversary. I urged her to reconsider and let them know ahead of time that she was coming, because that way they could enjoy her arrival for weeks before she arrived. Advent is about feeling Christmas before it is Christmas.
For whom do we wait? Who is this babe whose life begins in a barn and ends in public execution thirty-some years later? This life is about love, not power. Or, rather, it is about the power of love. This, we believe, is the light that illumines the darkness. This life shows us what life means, what our lives mean. In this life we see God’s self-revelation to us.
As we enter the season of rushing and partying and buying, I hope we can all pause often to reflect on this revelation and to draw inspiration, orientation, and sustenance from it.
Merry Christmas. Happy holy days. Vivat, St. Scholastica!