Does this sound familiar to you?
You’re in the middle of a significant event. Everyone is quiet, listening intently. The entire space is hushed, leaning forward, catching the impressive, weighty, world-changing reflections of an august speaker. And then you hear a little one call out, unimpressed by all the pomp and circumstance, the most important words in her world, “Mama!”
Yesterday was an event called convocation. The new Dean of our school spoke to the incoming class. The professors processed in their caps, gowns and colors. We listened to flute and trumpet. And a moving message from the Dean himself about the role of religion and spirituality in today’s conflicted world.
Students and faculty attended. Family attended. And as it turns out, very young children came along.
This is a small college on a large campus. It’s built around community. And that’s more obvious than ever, when students or staff bring their babies and toddlers to the formal events.
The child calling out? She put the entire experience into perspective again. It would be easy to take ourselves too seriously. Indeed, the Dean poked fun at Harvard’s view of itself as the oldest college in America, and teased all of us because he graduated from a British college that is over 600 years old. Much of his reflection (and his gift as a writer and teacher) is to humanize, with individual detail, larger issues. As a little one in her parent’s arms did for us, last night.
I believe the faculty on this campus understands that most of us are pulled in many directions, and fulfilling many roles in life. They are, too, although there’s probably an idyllic and abstract tendency among some of the them who live almost exclusively inside the academic bubble of the Harvard community. Contrarily, many gifted faculty also travel all over the world and work outside academia, too, and bring their real-world expertise back into the classroom.
I’ve been on campus all week, with n0n-stop orientation and info sessions. I’ve been so busy with these events, that I didn’t read the text on my cell phone, from my daughter in Italy. Or the one from my husband. I postponed replying to emails from clients. I couldn’t talk to friends. Yet I’m needed in all those parts of my life, too. Next week, when the schedule starts to settle down, I hope I’ll find more balance.
For now, I’m part of a small class of students with diverse backgrounds. Their average age is 26 … much younger than me. But I’ve met a handful of people in my position … returning after decades of life in the working world, with settled homes and families and careers, now going back to school for some reason. People from several nations, and all over the country, with all sorts of goals for their degrees.
It’s my experience (after a few days of orientation, so take it for what it’s worth) that the college welcomes us as complex people with multiple roles in our lives. Yes, I’m a full-time college student again. I’m also working and available to clients. I’m a mom with a college student who will need support from time to time. I’m a spouse who’d like to be present in my relationship. I’m a volunteer for several organizations. I’m a friend with connections to tend.
So I was a member of the audience listening to HDS’s Dean, David Hempton, speak. Trying to catch every word, as we gathered outdoors under the tent on a bright August evening, at the close of summer and coming of fall, with Andover Hall in the background. He offered his first words addressing the school as our new dean.
And then a classmate’s child cried out, “Mama!” No one paused to frown and criticize. There wasn’t a gasp of outrage. A patient father went off to get a red plastic wagon. A mother (and student) escorted her young daughter inside, probably to the bathroom. In the rear, a baby gurgled.
Education in the context of life. The dean’s words at the front of the tent. The baby’s call for “Mama” in the back. I think they “get it” about life and equilibrium. I hope so. It’s why I believe I’m called toward this vocation. You can’t really separate these parts of self: mind, body and spirit.