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In My Words/The Day is Young

It had been five full years since the movers hauled the last of our possessions from that special home overlooking the Fox, closed up their van and pointed it south. Yet as soon as I unlocked the front door and stepped into that small, familiar foyer, the years melted away.

Soon enough, the memories were rushing back. Christmas parties marked by good cheer and bad host costumes. Friends on the back patio for late-summer drinks. Enrollment events with prospective students and their parents packed into every nook and cranny. I remember one intrepid young fellow in particular, whom I met as he emerged from my basement, having been quite enamored of the man-cave he’d found down there.

“Ready to commit to St. Norbert College?” I asked, smiling.

He thought a moment. “I will if I can live in your basement.”

Now I thought a moment. “We can talk,” I said at last. I mean, we are an enrollment-driven college.

Then there’s the best memory of all, that perfect fall Saturday in 2010 when the entire first floor of the house was teeming with bridesmaids, all getting their final hair and makeup adjustments before 75 percent of our daughters were married in a triple wedding at Old St. Joe’s. In my mind I am back there again, a lone tuxedo in a cloud of taffeta and lace, wearing a smile you couldn’t pry off my face with a crowbar.

When you return to a place that’s meant so much to you, especially after five years, it’s easy to get swept up in memories.

But then I remind myself that I’m back here to do a job, and that’s not about yesterday. That’s about tomorrow.

I knew back in 2017, when I handed over SNC’s keys to Brian Bruess, that the institution we both love would be well cared for – and it definitely has been.

On Brian’s watch, SNC not only came through the pandemic as strong as before but it has continued to flourish. He built the college’s endowment to record levels, further diversified the student body and faculty, and steered St. Norbert to its highest-ever rankings among national liberal arts colleges – and Catholic colleges in particular.

He also encouraged the college to become even more aggressive in partnering with the National Science Foundation to secure support for research that is much more typical of a major research university than a residential liberal arts college. Such partnerships not only create important new knowledge but they provide invaluable research collaborations for SNC students – the kind of hands-on experience that leads to great jobs and entry into the best graduate schools. (You can read more about these research grants in the Fund of Knowledge article elsewhere in this issue.)

As you know, Brian is now tackling new challenges, this time at the helm of St. Benedict’s College and St. John’s University in Minnesota, and even as we celebrate his tenure we are well along in our search to find his replacement.

In the meantime, we’ve welcomed to campus another highly accomplished freshman class, and everyone – not least the interim president – is relieved that, so far, everything about the fall ’22 semester feels like the pre-Covid “normal” we’ve all longed for. Not that we’re taking anything for granted – we still know where those masks are, should we suddenly need them – but you can definitely detect the fresh bounce in people’s steps, and the joy they are taking in even everyday occurrences. That cup of coffee with a friend. The impromptu Frisbee games on the Campus Center quad.

In fact, I’m smiling as I write this, because we’ve just put to bed another successful SNC Day. Once again, thousands of visitors swarmed our beautiful campus. And, as always, it was especially heartwarming to see the unadulterated glee in the many youngsters as they got their faces painted, lobbed water balloons at siblings, giddily bounced on oversized inflatables and coated their faces in ice cream.

The sight of it sparked more happy memories, of course, not to mention a certain satisfaction in knowing that any number of the young children whom we entertained at the first SNC Day, back in 2009, are now actually SNC students.

But time to put the memory machine on Pause. There’s work to do.

Oct. 31, 2022