• |

In My Words/Life Lessons in a Beloved Community

My parents chose education as their vocations. They retired from Monroe High School in Wisconsin after more than 70 combined years of faithful and steady service as teacher, coach, teacher’s aide, attendance secretary, bus driver, lunchroom supervisor, director of athletics, mentor, advisor and counselor – among a host of other responsibilities. Of all the roles, there was one Marylou (“ML”) and Clarence (“CJ”) took most seriously: that of parents – to their own four kids and spouses, and as parent-figures to thousands of others. In all they do, they have been guided by their faith, pragmatic wisdom, deep commitment to family, care for Mother Earth and service to the common good.

One gift of having two parents in education was spending our summers tent camping for weeks on end. Four Bruess kids, all within five years of age, made campsites our home base – often with three, four or five other families, many bigger than our own. Campground staff thought an entire rural Wisconsin middle school had arrived via the caravan of wood-paneled station wagons. Rain or shine, we hiked, fished, swam, water-skied, canoed and used the Wisconsin wilderness as our classroom and playground.

Our camping endeavors had a deep impact on all of us. The life lessons we learned are countless and profound, forming us as siblings, parents and the principled leaders we each have become – each in our own spheres, living out the values ML and CJ taught us by word and example. We learned everyone has a role. Each person and their contribution has value and dignity. We each are responsible for considering the common good and contributing to the positive lived experience of everyone we encounter. We were taught interdependence. That family and love matter more than any material goods. That empathy and humility are essential for leading a life well-lived. That collective effort is infinitely more powerful than individual effort, and it is always the difference between success or failure – in both camping and in life. We were taught our voices matter and our words have power. And that Mother Earth is our first family, and that we must offer her relentless care.

At the conclusion of each camp outing, we made sure our campsite was left better than we found it. Serving the common good and contributing to camper solidarity, respecting and caring for nature, living life with integrity, and learning through a strong work ethic – all essential life lessons – were measured by how effectively our family packed up camp and by the level of satisfaction we each felt when Mom and Dad gave us the thumbs-up and we departed for home. It was the final punctuation mark to our family’s journey into nature (at least until we headed out on our next outing, usually after just a few days back in Monroe to wash clothes, air out the sleeping bags and restock the metal Coleman coolers).

These last five years for Carol and me, coming back to our beloved St. Norbert College, have been a vocational journey not unlike camping. In year one, our community theme Fiat Lux (let there be light) illuminated a path. Like life, that path offered both glorious views and loose rocks, exposed tree roots, and some unexpected switchbacks that, as any hiker knows, demand careful footing. As our journey continued, we came upon multiple grand displays of communal unity, spotting over and again our common purpose: a focus on human flourishing. Rain and shine, our SNC students, faculty and staff gave the world an example of how a community can struggle together to overcome and thrive despite tremendous challenges. We showed the world how we can successfully navigate persistent disruption, becoming a national model of how to thrive through a global pandemic. Together we have been able to achieve uncommon success by staying true to and embodying our Catholic, Norbertine and liberal arts mission: ensuring the holistic development and flourishing of our students and caring for each member of this beloved community.

As Carol and I set off for the next steps of our vocational journeys, know of our enormous gratitude for the gift of walking with each of you. For the lessons you’ve taught us; for the ways you showed up for this community and each other; and for all you’ve encountered, overcome and accomplished: We thank you. As we pack up and scan this beautiful campus, preparing to go (but not leave!), we know one thing for sure: The SNC campsite is in better condition than when we arrived, thanks to you and the unity of this community.

June 30, 2022