My strongest memories of holiday season are invariably ones of traditions or their interruptions. My brother and I looked forward to Christmas Eve service, held in a gigantic, Cathedral-like Congregationalist church built of brick and stone with a steeple more like a Gothic tower than a New England spire, as much for the fact that it signaled presents would soon be opened as it was the one time a year we could hold a lit candle and not get in trouble. Years later, when I would travel south with my own family to my parents’ home for the holidays, and returned to the Christmas Eve service for the first time in over a decade, I could remember the program almost item for item. It was almost as if I were returned to childhood, to my son’s age, only with a forward-looking memory leap-frogging through time, past high school and college and my first teaching jobs and marriage and a family of my own in which I now became my own parent, nervously allowing my own child to hold and light a candle against the darkness of that great, vaulted ceiling.
There were other traditions as well, both good and not so good. Watching the 1951 Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol with my dad (to suggest any other was apostasy!) before going to bed, long after my mother and brother had surrendered to sleep; the holiday dinner that grew smaller each year as adulthood approached and the older generations grew fewer and more frail; my brother and I sneaking (or so it seemed to us) from our bedroom before the first hint of morning light to sift through our stockings and wonder at what lay wrapped in the boxes that had miraculously appeared during those fleeting moments of sleep as well as why Kris Kringle seemed to enjoy spritz cookies more than celery sticks. And the years of playing it close to the vest, as my dad would say, when the small manufacturing firms and mills he worked for fell prey to the recessions of the 1970s, a “thin” holiday that we hoped would be followed by “fat” ones the next year.
Holidays, whether they be defined by Christmas or Eid Milad ul-Nabi or Chanukah or the Solstice, are shaped by traditions of thankfulness for bounty received or daily life survived as well as the hope for renewal and future comfort and safekeeping. They are repositories of who we are while also providing visions of who we might be.
As we enter this holiday season this year, my thoughts thus turn to ones of thankfulness—thankfulness for what each and every one of you, as members of this university community, contributes to our educational life and mission.
Looking back over this past year, we have much to be thankful for. We received numerous awards and recognitions as an institution for our majors and programs, our affordability, and the overall value of our educational experience and its preparation for future careers and continuing studies. Faculty and students alike have received a multitude of recognitions, from Fulbrights (Dr. Kevin McCartney), to First Team All-Independent Honors in Women’s Basketball (Amanda Hotham), to the Maine State Merit Award in Higher Education Excellence in recognition of our Personalized Learning initiatives, which was made possible only by the hard work of all faculty, staff and students. I’m also, admittedly, extremely thankful for the Starbucks that is now open in the Owl’s Nest!
Along with such thankfulness comes the recognition of our need to continue to grow and improve, to ensure that this is not only a university of strong academic and athletic programming, but a place that is inclusive and welcoming to all of its students and faculty, where we all feel we have a voice that can be heard. For this reason, my thanks to everyone who has filled out all our surveys this fall and agreed to serve on committees and task forces and answered our questions about what can make UMPI a better institution—whether it be about your residential life experiences, the dining hall, what is happening (or not happening) in your classrooms or simply—but so very importantly—how welcoming and receptive this has been as a community for you.
This is not to say that we have not had our share of challenges, both as individuals, perhaps, and as a community. And yet, I find myself just as thankful for the opportunity to work together through such moments of challenge, perhaps because it is through such moments that we create new and stronger traditions for ourselves. As we continue to work together respectfully and engage and dialogue with one another openly with a shared desire to move forward, our campus community will only grow stronger.
I hope this holiday season affords you some time both to reflect upon and rejoice with your families, friends and their traditions, both new and old. Thank you again for your commitment to the University of Maine at Presque Isle—for this truly is your university. I look forward to seeing you again in the new year.