Sunday, August 22, 2010

Inspiring Graduation Experience

I actually wrote this entry three weeks ago, right after Summer Graduation at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. I was inspired then and remain so. This never got posted because I left town the next morning for a vacation in Oregon, about which I write in my previous entry. So I am posting in a bit late, but that has no bearing on the story or its message:

Thirty graduations. That is how many I have attended since beginning my time as a professor of library science at SHSU. The first one was a thrill. I got to don my beautiful green and gold robe for the 2nd time (first being my own graduation) and walk in as a faculty member. I expected that ceremony attendance would get old after a while but that has not happened. I still enjoy the event, even if it does curtail my revered Saturday afternoon nap time. This year, as I left our building and headed over to the area where everyone assembles for lining up, I encountered something wonderful. Pulled up next to the curb was a big, shiny, chartered bus with people disembarking. Everybody was dressed to the nines and cameras were pointing. These folks were taking pictures of themselves taking pictures of themselves. I walked up to one young lady who was documenting the events with a video camera. “This is a wonderful group you have here," I said, "are you honoring one graduate or a group of people?” “We are all here for one person,” she replied. “She is getting a degree in education!” The people milling about ranged in age from babies in arms to grandparent types. “Where are you from?” I asked. “Well, most of us are from Houston but we also have people from as far away as California.” She replied. After my exclamations of praise for the grad and this family, we parted ways with me feeling better about the world. These folks realized that a college graduation was important enough to bring out a whole family to commemorate the event.

I have no doubt that buses get charted when young athletes reach exalted levels such as state playoffs. Buses of SHSU Bearkat fans come up from Houston on game days. But this was different. All these people were gathering to celebrate the academic achievement of one of their own. What a powerful message to the boys and girls who were part of the group! What a thrill for the grandparents who may not have attained such a goal. What a send-off for the new grad! I believe that the world is a better place because of this family, and others like it, who realize and applaud the hard work and sacrifice of everyone who made this particular grad a success.

Speaking of success, our SHSU Department of Library Science graduated 34 new school librarians on Saturday. Many were from San Antonio, a point of pride for me because I had wished we could offer instruction in SA for several years before plans became reality. We were treated to an exceptional graduation speaker, Dr. James Gaertner, outgoing President of SHSU. This ceremony was his last as university president. Dr. Gaertner is an accomplished speaker, known for his light touch while delivering serious messages. Two of his quotations really stood out for me:
• “Adversity introduces you to yourself.” I can certainly vouch for the reality that adversity shapes a person, but this was a bit of a different slant. As a youngster growing up, I often wondered how I would perform in the face of pain, loss, fear, hard times, or other trying circumstances. I knew my growing-up years were remarkably free of such tests. Looking back from my present perspective I realize that I am like most people: One way or another you get through those things.
• The other thing he said that I noted had to do with momentous life events, both positive and negative: “How a person responds to good or bad things that happen in life shows how big a person you are.” Celebrities behaving badly show the world their small stature by behaving badly in the face of great success and wealth. But we do not have to look that far for examples. I know associates who have shown true colors when confronted with both good and bad news.

As a new academic year begins, and many students enter the final stretch to degree completion, I wish all the best to both students and to the dedicated faculties that work so hard to help them succeed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Short Note about "Best Bank in the World"

I am sitting in air-conditioned comfort on Alberta Street, Portland OR, on a heat-advisory day. It is supposed to get up into the 90's!!! Given that lots of people are sans air-conditioning, that can actually be cause for concern. Anyway, this place is not only cool, but blasting out AC onto a little open courtyard area. The bank offers the following: free lectures about credit and other banking concerns (one just finished), free cookies, free soft drinks, several computers for free browsing (30 minute limit requested), and chirpy employees. One young guy just finished his time, wheeled his bike outside (yes he brought it inside with him), and pedaled off down the street. They also have a physical bulletin board where people can post notices, and also tout an online board for the same. Oh yeah and there is background music. They also have a project going called "build your block challenge," whereby people can submit proposals for neighborhood improvement projects and hope to gain up to $10,000. It seems a bit heartening to see a bank offering amenities when so many are just ripping you off and being surly while at it. On the other hand, all is not utopia, I surmise. Across the street there is a quaint victorian house sporting signs saying "Boycott Umpqua Bank...logging Old Growth since 1953," and other slogans. The building is the home of an outfit called "In Defense of Animals: Protecting the rights, welfare, and habits of animals."

I asked the young lady who was leading sessions about the signs. Her explanation was that the bank was founded in southern Oregon where logging is the prominent industry, and one director owns a logging company. She was quick to assert that this one person does not make the decisions for the bank. I asked about the organization with the protest posters, and she said they are a local PETA headquarters.

While I was keying in this, another session started. It is for beginning account holders, mostly early 20-somethings. First question, "When you put your money in the bank, where does it go?" She answered briefly and then led the group on a tour of the facility. They were surprisingly attentive, and more than happy to take the goodie bags handed out which contained checkbooks and other logo promotional items.

So what does this have with technology and/or librarianship? Well, the free computers for anyone to use is huge to me. I just sent off an article about the lack of free computer access for kids hit by the economic digital divide. While I was typing one teen left and another arrived on HIS bike and sat down at the computer next to me. What's not to like about free computer use, free cookies, and cool drinks plus AC on a hot day for a kid in this mixed neighborhood?

Finally what is my take on all this? Well, I have to say I see more to like than dislike. Sure the bank may have some issues with the logging industry, but it is local to Oregon and the money stays here. Banks are banks and I do have a certain level of suspicion about motives in view of our current economic woes and the role of big banks and businesses. However, they are trying to be accomodating and informative, not to mention offering the perks previously mentioned. What if EVERY bank offered 2-3 computers for free surfing, especially in neighborhoods where there are lots of people with limited/no access? If I lived in Oregon, I would probably bank here.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Time Enough!

When I was a kid, suppertime was when we all shared the stories of the day. Usually Mom had the most interesting story. She taught first and second grade for many years, and usually she had some tale about what had happened at school that day. She loved to tell us the stories from her reading books too. One she referred to many times was a traditional Yiddish tale—the story about the poor man who goes to the wise elder and asks what to do about his crowded house. Mom called the story “Room Enough” and I think that was the title in the reader that she used. Anyway, in the story the man is told to ease his crowding problem by bringing MORE inhabitants into the house. Bring in the chickens! No improvement. The goats! Much worse! …and so on. Finally the man goes back one more time and the elder says…now…go home and take out all the animals! So he does and comes back to report that the problem has been solved. There is now ROOM ENOUGH in the house. My mother thought this story was hilarious for some reason, and whenever things got cluttered in the den, or the kitchen needed straightening, she would pronounce that WE needed ROOMENOUGH! My brother and I always knew we were in for some house cleaning chores then.

The reason I have been thinking about this for the past few months is that I have been yearning for TIME ENOUGH. Although I am far from a born leader, I agreed with some reluctance last year to take over as department chair for our MLS program. Then around Christmas I had a worrisome mammogram. I ended up with surgery this spring followed by radiation treatments. I lost Mom to breast cancer , and had promised my daughter that if I ever needed treatment I would seek the best care. Thus I had my original appointments and surgery down town in Houston at MD Anderson. I was lucky enough to be able to have my radiation at a satellite clinic just 30 miles from my house. But every single day for two months I made the drive down and back for my treatments, losing about 3 hours from start to finish. I kept telling myself that once I got through with all that, I would be like the crowded family in the folk tale, except with time instead of room. I would get my life back, complete with Time Enough.

I finished my treatments three days before leaving to take students on a travel study experience to NYC and DC, finishing up with the ALA conference. That was a great trip and I took care not to overdo, but during that time I did not have what one would call a leisurely schedule. No matter. I was going to get it back when I returned from the trip! Surely then I would have Time Enough!

Upon return I discovered that I was behind on all fronts, most particularly with the other class I was teaching, and grades were due in one short week. So I got past that. Then came the week I had been waiting for. Last. Week. I was going to have Time Enough starting last week! Monday was busy but then Mondays are always busy. On Tuesday I had a great day teaching a new class of students. But…during lunch I got a call that my dad had been taken to the ER. It seems he had a heart attack, something they call a silent heart attack that must have occurred some time in the previous 2-3 days. Not only that, he had congestive heart failure that really should have been diagnosed ages ago. So again my life went into overdrive. We got him delivered back home and settled with a hospital bed in his den. Life is going on and his amazing spirit still blazes brightly.

Meanwhile I have been attending to a myriad of duties related to the administrative part of my job, and also keeping up with my summer class. Amazingly I am, for the moment, caught up with grading. I have an article to write but I have the all-important idea and it is percolating. I am sitting here listening to Lucinda Williams Radio via Pandora and thinking about re-launching my blog. I think I have time enough to do that. Finally.