Obviously, I’m not a person who likes to say “no” or I wouldn’t be teaching for four colleges in four Michigan counties this semester. And no, this is not the first semester I can say that, either. But, I try to avoid some of the extra activities available to faculty just because of my own time constraints and the promise of more wear and tear on a car I have to make last a while longer. Therefore, I can usually come up with an excuse why I can’t attend certain ceremonies and meetings. I say I’m busy, and I am.
Then, a month ago, the phone rang. It was someone at the main campus of a university for whom I have been an adjunct for over seven years. This is the college where I began teaching at post-secondary level, where I got my start as a freeway flyer. The woman on the other end of the phone reminded me that the investiture of the new university president was being scheduled and that there would be a ceremony marking the occasion. She said that all full-time faculty members and some adjuncts who had been with the college a number of years, like me, were being invited as well. We were not only being asked to attend, the plan was for us to dress in full academic regalia and march in as part of the ceremony.
Already, I was formulating my refusal in my mind; it was going to be full of regret and it would be a good one. However, then she began to butter me up. She told me she was one of the people who regularly reviewed my course evaluations and that she knew how my students valued me and that I was important to the university. By this time, you might guess, my resolve to decline was fading fast. Before I knew it, I was telling her that I was in Grand Rapids, the city where the ceremony would be held, on Wednesdays anyway, and that it would be a simple matter to just go earlier that day. I said I would attend.
The day of the investiture, I left early and traveled to the large Grand Rapids campus. The university, it appeared, was going all out for this occasion, as evidenced by the large numbers of people all over the campus and the friendly event planners on every corner. I saw people travelling in small groups and everyone seemd excited and happy to be there. For a moment, I felt a bit of the isolated feeling that creeps in every now and then as a part-time instructor. Sometimes, I compare freeway flyers to modern day “Zorros.” Who was that masked man/woman? We come, we teach and conquer, and we go.
After an informal luncheon, I made my way to the dressing area where there were people who were experts at dressing others and making sure their hoods and everything hung correctly. I was pleased to see that there were a half dozen people I knew fairy well and I even received some hugs hello. By the time the procession began, I was feeling pretty positive about the experience. I marched behind a woman who had interviewed me for my first adjunct position; behind me, was a man, another instructor, I had also known as a friend for some time.
I sat in the third row of the filled autorium and listened to two state representatives and several businessmen from the area speak of hope and promise for education. A student made a speech about how excited he was to be at the university and how much he looked forward to the future. Then, I listened to the new university president speak. He was energetic and focused. He was excited about the possibilities of higher education and the future of the university. And, somewhere between the talk of strategic planning and the bold, new vision, I began to feel a part of things. It is nice to be reminded why you do what you do, and more so, why you love it. I took that feeling with me when I left that day, and I even carried it into my night class.
So, maybe, I will try not to be too quick to come up with an automatic answer of “no” the next time an opportunity presents itself. The rest of you Zorros out there might keep this in mind, too: sometimes we need to say “yes.”