Do you ever think about the type of higher education leader you want to be remembered as? Or how you’re currently contributing to the profession?
Is it your intention to make a difference in students’ lives, and to lift as you climb? Challenge the status quo? Advocate for change to better serve the students? Use your voice even when you think you won’t be heard?
Being clear on your intentions is good, but it’s not enough. And really, it’s not about – or shouldn’t be about – how you want to be remembered, but rather, what you can offer the profession RIGHT NOW. Screwdrivers are fantastic tools, but if you’re in a canoe in the middle of a lake and a storm is coming, a screwdriver ain’t gonna do squat to get you to shore. You need a paddle RIGHT NOW to make the situation better.
I remember Dean Bernadette Walker. She was direct and, to those students who didn’t know her, a bit terrifying. Thankfully, I got to see a side of her most students didn’t.
Dean Walker had a story for everything and would never hesitate to tell us when we needed to do better. I remember her telling me once that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. At the time, I had absolutely no direction or purpose and I didn’t receive her suggestion very well (most likely because the truth hurts!).
But looking back, her comment forced me to take stock of my academic life and aspirations. I started to value the degree and I wanted one, and nothing or no one was going to stop me from earning one. Her honesty also created a space for me to dream and determine how I could make my dreams come true.
Dean Walker impacted many students and her legacy lives on within many of us that pursued careers in higher education. She modeled the importance of lifting others as you climb, advocating for those whose voice is often not heard and having the courage to stand up for what’s right even when you’re the only one standing.
But perhaps her biggest legacy is that she never tried to leave one. She simply and genuinely cared about her students and did her best on a daily basis so that all of us could succeed.