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New Season

Summer begins on the Monday after graduation, when campus suddenly empties. In the morning, walking across the Quad to my office, the air feels warm but fresh as the event management company's crews lazily begin disassembling the rows of chairs. They take down the large screens and the podiums. The metal security fences and the water stations for the many senior citizen attendees. Their temporary workers cut the plastic fasteners that tie the chairs from one another. The squirrels run this way and that.

On the morning of the Monday after graduation, I permit myself the opportunity to reflect on the previous year. I have a chance to think about the things that we in the Office of the Provost at the University of the Plains have accomplished. There is much to survey. I have been in my role as Vice President and Associate Professor of Practical Humanities for twenty years, and not a year has gone by without the need to spend at least a week meditating on the enormous growth of our institution, the impact of our graduates, and the astonishing financial challenges that a complicated University like ours must face as we think about the future.

It's also an uneasy time, as I think about the dwindling possibilities of my own ascendance to the highest office at the University. So long have I stood in the shadow of that biggest of leather chairs, in the highest office on campus, that overlooks from a stone turret in College Hall, the central grounds and much of the great city skyline, ten miles to our north.

But for one morning -- on each Monday after graduation -- the university seems to return itself to me in its purest, most rapturous, most full-of-potential form. I can forget about succession and the slights that have relegated me to this humble post. The students are gone, finished with their work, and have departed to make some difference in the world. And it is as if we are presented once more with the blank canvas of cool stone buildings wrapped in ivy. The whole place seems ready for new construction. Ready for renewal. Ready for the opening to new possibilities.

So that, of course, the next class of students will be able to experience things that our alumni never even thought could be possible. New towers and gymnasiums. New boathouses for our prestigious crew team and a faculty center to be the envy of Harvard and Berkeley and all of these other places that have absolutely no problem attracting faculty to their wealthy city enclaves. Ours is a humbler, nobler locale, full of honest middle class families trying to make their way in the heart of the country. We have a rugged spirit and hard winters. The people we attract to the University of the Plains are eager to be purified by the elements and by the rigor of the work that they put in here.

This first Monday of summer gives me a chance to imagine the University of the Plains as the university of the future. With students coming to complete their training, not just in academic disciplines, but in the fields that will make them better citizens, better participants in the experiment of our democracy, better human beings. This is the day on which I reflect upon the duty of our University in the universe, and it humbles me.

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