My tastes in popular music range widely. So recent thoughts about my “time” at Alvernia have been inspired by the reflective, nostalgic Judy Collins and the brash, confident Rolling Stones.
But one thing is for certain. As I write this final column, I am a “short timer!” I have not been counting the days. Quite the contrary. I have sought to live in the moment. And what moments there have been. My hope was to have mixed emotions but no second thoughts. So far, so good.
There have been moments of sadness, during my last Honors Convocation and Baccalaureate Mass and Hooding Ceremony. Presenting awards to students I know and watching faculty congratulate graduates always tugs at my heart. And I will miss the pastoral warmth of our chaplain, Fr. Bowman. (Shalom, Ron.)
There have been moments of joy, too. At Commencement, we inaugurated our Four Under Forty Alumni Awards. I was delighted to honor Emily Berret ‘11, Amy Sikorski-Klatt ’08 and 09, Steve Koons ‘05 and Melissa Masone Ulmer ‘09 in the presence of their loved ones and the Class of 2019. And it was a moving experience to recognize George Vogel for his profound impact on the treatment field and countless individuals; and Sr. Margaret Carney, a renowned Franciscan scholar and servant-leader and a dear friend and mentor.
Mixed emotions, yes, but the dominant emotion has been gratitude. Gratitude expressed all too generously to me. But more importantly, so many have expressed their appreciation for the life-changing impact of this special place—the “Vern.”
The Alumni “Farewell” Tour took me from Manhattan and DC to Long Boat Key and Naples (Florida, alas, not Italy) and from Philadelphia and Pottsville to right at home at Cedar Hill. Local alums value Alvernia’s stature locally, and those beyond Berks County enjoy our growing prominence in the Mid-Atlantic region. Alums who were the first in their family to earn a college degree have a unique loyalty.
Alums from our early decades reminisce about the close-knit community centered on Francis Hall and the caring, omnipresent Sisters. Women who came as older students or single mothers and the CJ men (and occasionally women) known as “Pacelli’s Boys” recall the formidable nun with a big heart and high standards. Long-time alums share pride in their alma mater’s evolution and growth. And it is affirming to hear them validate that our Franciscan mission still animates what we do and who we are.
Alums from the past 15 or 20 years have had a quite different experience. Some came from the Community College of Philadelphia, earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees, and remade their lives. They, too, have a unique loyalty. Others made iconic memories, while putting Alvernia on the map as part of a storybook team (think of the Six-Pack or the Final Four gang) coached by Jack McCloskey or more recently by Alvernia’s very own Yogi! Some return to recite the Nightingale Pledge at the Nursing Pinning Ceremony where dozens more continue a tradition of excellence. Others salute faculty who built other outstanding programs, such as the Addictions and Behavioral Health program, celebrating its 40th anniversary as the first such program in the country. Current and recent students are grateful for life-changing experiences through the Holleran Center for Community and Global Engagement (celebrating its 10th anniversary) and proud they helped Alvernia earn distinction as a national model for community engagement.
Gratitude has worked both ways for me this spring. My “Gratitude Week” (see p. 42) extended from a Founder’s Day address in tribute to our Sisters to an Interfaith Prayer Service, involving the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities and celebrating Alvernia as an inclusive Catholic university committed to interfaith fellowship. A symposium highlighted faculty scholarship and creativity, and trustees and other generous donors were hosted for a rollicking night of authentic Irish music.
Year-end events recognized graduating (and older) “Seniors,” and former alumni awardees joined retirees for a festive evening of reminiscing. Receptions for the “unsung heroes” of my management team and our legendary Cedar Hill catering crew were followed by an all-university picnic.
The reassuring realism of the Byrds has been my touchstone this year. As my final months have become final weeks, I have been honored with an unforgettable generosity of spirit. And my collection of Irish and Scotch whiskey is at an all-time high!
Hearing from students and alums has touched my heart. The faculty tribute provided a life-long memory. So, too, the Gala. It was a special night for the university, and I was overjoyed by the financial support contributed for future Reading Collegiate Scholars.
As one steward to the other, I pass on to President-elect Loyack a thriving, mission-centered university embedded in an exceptionally supportive local community. I wish for him the rewarding relationships I have found so affirming on and beyond the campus.
I have been blessed with faith-filled Sisters; devoted alums, trustees, and benefactors; talented colleagues; a fine leadership team; and caring students. Serving as Alvernia’s president is the highlight of my career.
Helen and I look forward to liturgies and lunches with the Sisters and to joining Alvernia friends at campus events and Faculty Salons! I look forward to contributing to presidential and trustee colleagues nationally, to local nonprofits, and to interfaith efforts. And of course to relaxing with family and friends at the beach . . . and in Ireland.
Peace and All Good,