April 25, 2015
APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
From “The Wasteland” by T. S. Eliot
We count the cycle of the year in so many ways, and for myself and my colleagues in higher education, April truly can be the cruelest month. We find ourselves hurtling towards the end of the school year, with graduation looming for our seniors and finals and final grades for everyone. We work hard on looking at which things worked in the classroom, what went right, what went wrong, what may have gone horribly wrong. It is also a time for landmark events at Cheyney University, for example the Honors & Awards Convocation ceremony for our many excellent students. Today, we are hosting an Open House for prospective students. Tomorrow evening, Tavis Smiley himself will be visiting our campus and speaking to the community. As the legislative representative for our faculty union, I will find myself headed to State College on Friday for a yearly assembly. Those of us sitting on committees will be finishing the work needed to be done by the end of the year, or at least attempting to finish. (“I swear by my honor to do this, or die trying!”) It’s no wonder so many of us experience burn out, and find the summer a time of respite and recuperation.
I honestly do not intend to die trying anything, although by this time in the year, I do feel as though I have hit something of a wasteland in my brain. Trying to honor commitments outside of the university can be trying, and I often find myself exhausted at the end of the day, wanting only to watch episodes of Game of Thrones or Vikings in order to unwind. (Both being shows where people make oaths about how they will do a thing, or die trying).
In addition to the usual end of year insanity, this year for some reason has been especially difficult for many of my colleagues and my students. There have been many family deaths, deaths of colleagues, illnesses, major things shaking up many people’s lives. Most of us manage somehow to come through and get the things done we must accomplish.
When I see my students enduring some of the things they must endure (deaths in the family, a stroke, a serious illness suddenly removing a student from classes when there are only two weeks left in the semester), it brings me a great deal of perspective on the things that are important and the things that are not so important. Assisting students who are dealing with very serious issues makes me much less patient with students who simply have not been attending class all semester and who want a break of some kind. It also brings my own life into perspective. That annoying sinus infection I’ve had is really not so big a deal and I know that I can plough through and get my work done so that my students can do theirs.
Way back in the 1980s when I was an undergraduate myself, I am not sure I would have had this perspective, nor do I think I realized that my own adult life career would be higher education. I honestly feel that working with my students has made me a better person, a more well-adjusted person, even with all the petty things that go with a career in higher ed (politics, pettiness, colleagues who hate change, and did I mention politics?).
There are some who might think from recent news articles that Cheyney University is going under, that we have suffered from bad administration and a devastating budget deficit. While those last two things are true, I believe that like my students, we will endure, there will be change, and things will get better for us all. There are enough of us who believe in Cheyney and Cheyney’s mission to make this happen.
I am hopeful and optimistic that next April will not be as cruel.