Sunday, August 1, 2010

August as the Ideal Time for Reflection on New Beginnings

I have most recently written about the virtues and joys of “new beginnings,” these recurring opportunities for us higher educators to restart, regenerate, begin anew with new insights and learnings so as to improve our work with students.

And I want to comment now on August as an ideal time for the kind of reflection to launch new beginnings.

This blog is prompted by the fact that on Monday I will have the privilege of another “new beginning.” I will be welcoming and then working with teams from 22 two-year colleges who will have journeyed to nearby Asheville, North Carolina, for our Foundations of Excellence Launch Meeting. They will have all come to design a new vision, and hence a new beginning, a grand plan for the improvement of the beginning college experience, for their respective colleges.

I had known for years about the importance of August but it was really brought home to me back in August of 2000 when my wife, Betsy Barefoot, and I were on vacation in England and were engaging in one of our favorite pastimes there: visiting magnificent historic cathedrals. And we happened to wander into Worcester Cathedral where in the pews was placed the monthly schedule that opened with this homily:

August is often a useful month in which to
take stock. At this time, many of us will be
on holiday, or perhaps just simply enjoying
a different rhythm in our daily lives, free from
the pressure of school, work, or the ordinary
routine. For many people August seems to act
as a kind of hiatus: a pause before some form
of new beginning. It is a good time to stand back
a bit and reflect on where we are going and how
we are leading our lives. It is also a good time to
heed the words of St. Anselm, a former Arch-
bishop of Canterbury. “Come now, turn aside from
your daily employment. Escape for a moment from
the tumult of your thoughts, put aside your weighty
cares. Let your burdensome distractions wait.
Free yourself for awhile…
Enter the inner chamber of your soul…

I certainly can’t say it any better than that—or as well. So I will just leave this invitation for reflection at that.

John N. Gardner