Holiday Celebrations and Thanks

Ray Rice

My strongest memories of the holiday season, like many people’s, are 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 attended that same service, this time as an adult with my own family, 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 son 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” on Christmas Eve with my father long after my mother and brother had surrendered to sleep; my brother and I sneaking 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.  But there were also the years of “playing it close to the vest,” as my father would say, as the manufacturing firms and mills he worked for in Massachusetts and Connecticut during the 1970s fell prey to what seemed like endless recessions: “thin” holidays that, as children, we hoped would be followed by “fat” ones the following year.  (We knew only too well that the “Massachusetts Miracle” was more myth than reality—or, if it was miraculously happening, it certainly wasn’t in western Massachusetts!)

Holidays, whether they be defined by Christmas or Ramadan 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.

And looking back over the past year, we have much to be thankful for.  New programs such as Agricultural Science and Nursing, to be followed next year by the return of Accounting and other new programs.  The amazing generosity of donors, such as our million dollar endowment, making possible our first endowed chair ever at this university.  New faculty and staff, all of whom are contributing to a stronger academic and co-curricular experience.  Remarkable sports teams, from the Softball team’s continuing remarkable success last spring, the Women’s Cross Country’s great showing in the NAC this fall, to this winter’s basketball teams, whose energy and competitiveness on the courts are bringing more enthusiastic crowds to Wieden than we’ve experienced in quite a while.  And, of course, the passage of the higher education bond, which promises the ability for us, as an institution, to invest in the facilities and programs that will best prepare tomorrow’s professionals.

But what makes this university truly special is not the individual programs or teams or athletes or faculty members (as remarkable as they might be), but the family of individuals who make this a truly special place to learn and work.  Organizations are defined not just by quantitative measures and numericals (although those are often quite important)—but by the generosity of the community itself and the collaborative and giving spirit in which they live and work.  Universities often go through “fat” and “thin” cycles, just like families experience from one holiday to the next, as so much depends upon legislative appropriations and the ability of institutions to adapt to changing socio-economic realities.

What’s truly remarkable, to my mind, about UMPI is the people who dedicate themselves to the work of education.  From our faculty and coaches, to our professional advisors and student support staff, to the YourPace crew in Normal Hall ensuring that working learners can achieve degrees while providing for their families, to the facilities staff (shoveling, sanding, scraping…endlessly) and dining hall workers, to the entire crew of the Houlton Higher Education Center.

And, most important, the students—who provide the energy and spirit and vision that give the rest of us the reason to make this all “The Way it Should Be.”

I hope this holiday season affords you some time to reflect upon and rejoice with your families, friends and their traditions, both new and old.   Thank you again, everyone, 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.