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In My Words/Summer Bliss, Gratitude and Active Hope

For as long as I can remember, summers have been soaked with a healthy combination of anticipation, adventure, renewal and relaxation.

My parents, Clarence and Mary Lou, worked in secondary education, which allowed us to saturate our summers with volumes of family time – 95 percent of it spent outdoors. Among our most anticipated and favorite activities: camping! Oh, and camp we did, in serious fashion. We would set off for two weeks at a time, only returning home briefly to restock necessary food and supplies. Within a day or two (and after no fewer than nine loads of laundry), the six of us and our station wagon would be off again to explore yet another of Wisconsin’s grand state parks. They made the perfect backdrop for mid-afternoon waterskiing, late-evening campfires and dozing off in moonlit tents. From June through mid-August, we would live digital-free and blissed out, embracing the perfectly imperfect experience. And, along with the near-permanent odor of Deep Woods OFF!, we also embraced a thing I like to call “active hope.”

This kind of love, palpable hope, vibrant living: It’s precisely the feeling that is so very alive and present on the St. Norbert campus. It’s alive everywhere our faculty, staff, students, friends and alumni live and breathe and do their good works. St. Norbert College embodies an active hope for a future even brighter than that which already is. Without question, Carol and I feel it and we are so very excited to be coming home to the place that instilled in us the very active hope embodied here.

The anticipation of becoming the eighth president of St. Norbert College has me energized as never before. I feel refreshed and ready, too. By my first official day in office, I will have completed a four-month sabbatical. Truth be told, I’ve never had a break between professional appointments and was originally unsure how it might work. At Carol’s suggestion, I developed a “syllabus” to guide this precious time of transition. Each week was shaped around a theme. (Carol calls them learning objectives!) Each had a targeted reflection, reading and/or research activity. Each week I also appreciated an hour-long phone consultation with my much-admired predecessor, President Kunkel. It’s also been sheer delight to spend several days a month on campus, meeting members of the college and wider community.

Thankfully, I have also had the chance to enjoy dedicated family time. I might have even earned an A+ (self-graded) on a few of my own “syllabus” items. I caught a few fish, felled trees, kayaked, camped alone. (Let’s be clear: Carol is no fan of camping.) I biked rural Minnesota roadways. I walked and thought; packed ... and packed ... and unpacked ... and packed some more. I visited family far and wide, and significantly reduced my mother’s honey-do list. (You’re welcome, Dad.)

During this period of anticipation and contemplation, one idea recurred: Each of us – alumnus, donor, friend, neighbor, community partner, business partner, faculty or staff member, student, trustee, new president – each of us is bonded by our unique St. Norbert experience, along with our calling to seek and embody wisdom and true human flourishing.

Carol and I extend our heartfelt gratitude for the remarkable show of radical hospitality that this community has offered us upon our return. Neither of us could have imagined a more generous homecoming. It has left us beyond humbled and further poised to reenter this strong and vibrant St. Norbert community to do the work we so love to do, in communio. To return to our alma mater, to find it so healthy, and to know how eager the community is to discover an even brighter future – that represents an unparalleled vocational alignment.

We offer a most special thank-you to Tom and Deb Kunkel. The generosity of time and wisdom they both have shared over the last few months is a true gift to the college – and to Carol and me.

And so it is with a palpable sense of responsibility, a deep commitment to our tripartite mission (Catholic, liberal arts, Norbertine), an unwavering openness to discover the will and desire of the community for our future, and a teaching and learning spirit, that Carol and I unpack our moving boxes and anticipate the next phase of this remarkable vocational journey at, and with, St. Norbert College.

July 1, 2017