“Happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.”–Frederick Koenig (German inventor, 1771-1833)
I thought that Koenig’s quote is particularly appropriate to teaching and learning and working one week into the “new normal” at UMPI. I think of all the things we do not have at this point in time and all of the things that I miss—let’s start with students on campus, cars in parking lots, and people working from their offices—which is immediately and starkly obvious, perhaps, to the very few still living here “on campus.” Along with those few students in their dorms, as well as some of our wonderful student affairs staff, we see this difference every day. All of us, of course, have had to make immense and disruptive adjustments to our lives: faculty and staff and administrators working from hastily assembled “home offices” (nothing like seeing “bed head” in an early morning Zoom meeting, ha ha!); students living at home and readjusting to sharing bedrooms and family space months earlier than they had planned; many of the stores and other venues that bring us comfort and routine and entertainment closed if not providing essential services. And there is the very real concern for work in this economy and, above all, the health and safety of all those we know in our communities, let alone those we know and love. These unprecedented times have altered or shut down so much in our lives that allow us happiness and those are absences impossible not to mourn.
But there is very much that we still do have—and things that we can do to re-establish connections and community even in the face of such disruption. One of my favorite moments last week was to jump onto a Zoom upon an invitation from Sue White, our Director of Admissions, and talk to the dozen or so students associated with our Admissions programming. They spoke of getting used to being back home, looking for work, trying to set up routines for study and academics, using social media to stay in touch with friends, as well as the efforts made by faculty to deliver courses at a distance—and, sometimes, they had advice for faculty to make such experiences even better (don’t worry, I gently shared it!). There were even two students who had obtained outstanding full time jobs (months before graduation!) that wouldn’t have been possible if they were still on campus. There were down sides, too: the loss of the final weeks of a senior year, not physically seeing friends and faculty, trying to get employers to understand the time they needed (during “normal” working hours) to do school work.
Other ways to ensure these connections is to make sure our UMPI organizations continue, even if in a different environment. The Student Government Association, for instance, met last week via Zoom as did the University Senate, and we heard stories from nearly every individual on that Zoom as to how, in some form or another, the pandemic was impacting their lives—but that they were, nonetheless, persevering. These organizations are great models of continued connection, even in disruptive times.
As evidenced by my participation in the University Senate or the conversation with the Admissions Office students, Koenig’s quote—the importance of recognizing what we do (still) have—is remarkably prescient. Making time to reconnect with friends, as far-flung as they might be at present, for one thing. And making sure you re-establish a routine and, especially, stick to it. Focus on what you can control, such as getting that UMPI coursework done each week; and ask for help, from faculty, from staff, from friends and family, to assist in making that possible.
A great personal example of that came with our daughter Naomi just the other day. She is by disposition pretty self-sufficient, but I knew I had to get her to do things that reminded her of what brings her happiness living here on campus. And a great deal of that has to do with students. She loves basketball, so I was fortunate that Coach Kane was on campus and could spend time (while practicing appropriate social distancing!) giving her pointers on shooting and even making layups in Wieden Gymnasium. It wasn’t the same without those of you whom she likes to see: Ines (“would she be proud of me?” she asked), Sharon (“that’s where she always sits!”), and even players who she was particularly fond of who graduated a couple years ago (“How do you think Miami Mo is doing?”). But it was great seeing her happy shooting baskets—and relentlessly making fun of her dad, who decidedly cannot—and enjoying herself while remembering just what makes Wieden special for her.
All of that is part of an ethics of care built around human connections that help us to succeed—certainly by focusing on our work but just as importantly by being responsive to each other in our relationships, whether they be friend to friend, student to teacher, family member to family member, or ourselves to our communities. And that means paying attention, listening and responding to each other, and showing compassion to each other. We need those connections now most dearly.
As always, please let us know how we can help you to succeed and, most importantly, to stay safe and, yes, as happy as possible in this new normal. That’s what we at UMPI are all here for.