The events of last week on our campus left me feeling I really could skip directly to the last word of my greeting, “Family,” because the way this campus and this community pulled together to showcase our university and our service area to delegates from 15 states and the District of Columbia assembled for the National Institutes for Historically-Underserved Students felt like the preparations my grandparents and all of their siblings used to make for the annual family reunion.
There was no dinner on the ground with too many slices of homemade chocolate cake, as in my youth, but there was fiddle music soaring to the rafters and Vestal Goodman belting out a gospel song. It felt like home. This place already feels like home, and you already feel like an extension of my family. David and I are so deeply honored to serve with each of you.
I was here in the wee hours of the morning several days last week making final preparations, and what I found was a diligent night crew polishing the floors, cleaning the restrooms, and generally making our facility sparkle like few others I have ever seen. All of this they routinely do while the rest of us are sleeping. There are too many names to call who work here at all hours of the day and night who deserve my gratitude, and I extend it to each of them, but perhaps none more than our custodial crew.
It’s easy to remember to thank and to support those we see every day, perhaps more important to remember to thank and to support those who are so often unseen. Maybe that is, in fact, the main takeaway lesson for us all from the National Institutes for Historically-Underserved Students.
So often, I hear it said in higher education circles, although not among the colleagues gathered here last week, that students aren’t ready for college anymore. It isn’t always popular to assert, and you don’t have to agree with me, but I would offer for your consideration that maybe it is the colleges that aren’t ready for the students anymore.
Mostly, ours aren’t students like Richie Cunningham from “Happy Days,” and here’s a hard truth. Probably they never will be again. That ship has sailed. Our students have real-world challenges that most college students of my generation never even had to consider. I say our students, all of them, are our responsibility and our greatest point of pride. If they are willing to give their best, if they are willing to work hard all day every day, it’s our job to meet them where they are and help them get wherever their dreams will take them.
Thanks again for last week, a testimony of where the dreams of one little boy from Scott County, Mississippi, can take him, and hopefully prove to our students that their dreams can take them somewhere just as wonderful.