Friday, March 03, 2006

Moving On

At last Sunday night’s dinner (made-from-scratch spaghetti) one of our group was a ‘regular’ who, as an Anderson Hall resident, came to her first dinner either late in her freshman or early in her sophomore year. Two closed friends often joined her but all of them now live elsewhere and they find it difficult set Sunday nights aside. Also, the topics of conversation among a group of predominantly first and second year students are less interesting than they once more. As the weeks of a final spring semester slip away a senior is more concerned with graduate school admissions, job applications, making decisions about relationships that may become logistically more difficult and other aspects of an awaiting ‘real world’ that loom ever larger. The university environment that once seemed so daunting has become, for many, the secure nest that ‘home’ once was, as they were packing for the first semester of their freshman year.

For those of us who have chosen “professor’ as a calling, the connections we make with a relatively few students who may call us ‘mentor’ are an important facet of a good life. (In my case these connections have also included young CTE staff members and young faculty). They speak to a human need that I believe is universal, to make a positive difference in the life of another human being.

But ‘moving on’ is essential part of the process, as it should be. Freshmen become seniors and they graduate. They may return to ‘the dorm’ but it is not the same. Ph.D. students complete their dissertations. Young faculty receive tenure and constitute themselves as mentors to others. Thus mentoring, for all its rewards, has a poignant quality. It gives meaning to a central Buddhist precept: impermanence. A young colleague who is both a graduate student and one of my most trusted staff members told me this as we concluded a meeting this morning: “really the only way you can repay good mentoring is to give the same gift to someone else.”

On the other hand, the rewards of mentoring are always there to be savored. Professors grow older, it is true, but undergraduates – my neighbors in Anderson hall – are perpetually youthful.


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