This morning I spent some time with my incoming Honors Odyssey students and then dashed away to the funeral of a retired colleague. It was an odd switch: a room full of bright-eyed first-year students dressed for summer camp and eager to jump the next hurdle in the race, followed by a room overly full of current and retired faculty members dressed in black to cheer on a former colleague who has finally crossed the finish line, tired and hurting but unafraid.
I didn't know him particularly well, my dead colleague, but very early in my career he encouraged me at a time when I really needed encouragement, helping me understand some campus events that were relatively incomprehensible to a newbie, and then when I was faculty chair he shared the wisdom built on decades of institutional memory. Some saw him primarily as a curmudgeon, but his gruff exterior camouflaged a gentle soul. He will be missed.
And my new honors students? They seem lively and energetic, curious about this whole college adventure. If they're frightened, it doesn't show. I haven't learned their names or figured out what characteristics they bring to the classroom: Who will be the problem child? Who will be the clown? In my book they're just blank pages waiting to be filled.
It's not easy seeing a former colleague get consigned to the cold ground, knowing that his work here is done and we'll no longer benefit from his wisdom except in memory, but it helps to come back to a campus bubbling with potential, where gleeful hordes of new students are standing at the starting line and ready to take off.
We're in this race together, and if some get to the finishing line faster than others, the least we can do is stand up and cheer.