Keeping Christ in Christmas; Keeping “Break” in “Winter Break”

By Amanda Thomas, Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs

Holiday Joy Snowman

Advent and Christmas are favorite times of the year for me, even though I am a Southerner and think 49 degrees is frigid. I enjoy the cards, the decorations, the music, the parties, and spending time with friends and family. As a Christian, I believe it is a very sacred time of year, full of anticipation and joy in the birth of Jesus. In other words, I try, in the midst of shopping and busyness, to keep Christ at the center of my Christmas celebrations.

On the other hand, the end of the semester has never been my favorite time of year. As Dr. Sue Abromaitis said to me years ago, “Amanda, we get paid to grade and the rest is fun.” When I repeated this to Dr. Tom Pegram and Dr. Kevin Hula this week, they begged to differ because in their view, Academic Senate meetings go on the same list as grading. They are probably right. In any case, the end of the semester vacillates between busy and, as some call it, “crazy busy.” Students and faculty members alike often say to me “I might not get it all done” to which I say “You will; you always do.” After the supreme effort of studying, writing, and grading, it is good to remember that the academic calendar includes breaks: breaks from preparing and going to classes, completing and grading assignments, and attending meetings. I encourage all of my colleagues, whatever your faith tradition may be, to take advantage of the winter break to make space for what is sacred and/or restorative to you, whether it be a particular seasonal family activity, lunch with friends, catching up on those back issues of the New Yorker, re-watching the entire Harry Potter movie series, or volunteering at your favorite service site. Some of my best scholarship ideas and teaching innovations have come to me during these times of prayer, renewed connections, rest, relaxation, and recharging. I wish you a wonderful break and look forward to the spring semester

Gratitude in the midst of Busyness

Amanda Thomas, Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs, reflects on the season of Thanksgiving.

It is that time in the semester when the students look as if the entire term’s worth of assignments is due tomorrow, faculty members seem to be mentally calculating and recalculating when grading will be finished, and then the Thanksgiving holiday hits, with hours of travel and/or food preparation. All this busyness can be a strain on the nerves. It is good to basically be required to find a way to be thankful, even if one of our children drops our grandmother’s cherished dish, our partner manages to go on an errand right when people start arriving, or an uncle starts spouting political views that put the rest of the family on edge.

I used to spend my time working with families with young children who managed to strain the nerves of all in their environments—parents, teachers, peers, even themselves. I would always begin with a parental challenge: find 20 things to praise their child for before school. Many told me they could not find that many things in a week(!), but after a review of possibilities (Did he finally get his feet on the floor to get out of bed? Was the toothbrush picked up? Did at least one bite of breakfast make it into the tummy? Did she remember her backpack? Is the homework off of the floor? Did she crack a half smile at least once?), we were able to come up with a plan, and mornings in that family started to change. Perceptions of the “wild” child started to change. The child started to change. Families are one example of a system, and a significant change to any part of a system changes the entire system.

At Loyola, we are in a time of challenge. During times of challenge, it’s tempting to focus on the emotional stress and anxiety and forget to look around and see all the things for which we are grateful. I just received an email from Interim Vice President for Enrollment Management and Communication Mark Lindenmeyer. In it, he cites an article highlighting a Harvard Business School professor who says that half of American colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years. Mark goes on to note the author’s conclusion: “Fortunately, in his [Christensen’s] research, he found that most of the successful alumni who gave generous donations to their alma maters did so because a specific professor or coach inspired them. Among all of these donors, ‘Their connection wasn’t their discipline, it wasn’t even the college,’ says Christensen. ‘It was an individual member of the faculty who had changed their lives.’”

So what am I particularly grateful for this Thanksgiving? The members of our faculty who, each and every day, connect with our students. The staff and administrators who encourage and cajole our students to persevere in their studies and in their development. Does every connection result in life change? No. Do we know which ones will? Not always at the time. This constant effort to connect with our students and encourage them in their intellectual pursuits, career goals, and life plans is what matters. Each of you matters. Thank you.