In each of these Monday morning communications, I’ve attempted to convey my profound appreciation to everyone in this college who dedicates energy, intellect, and passion to help us get better, and deliver on the promise of opportunity. That palpable and prevalent gratitude is felt by others too, and I get to hear about it every single day, whether speaking with students or out in the community. So I start this week by giving thanks.
I also wish to share a couple reflections from the last week’s conference of the Community College League of California in San Jose. Those were my first days away from campus since I joined you all here at Saddleback, and it was essential for me to make the most of my attendance. Indeed, the presenters provided a huge variety of data, perspectives, and strategies on issues like guided pathways, free speech, enrollment management, strategic planning, legislative initiatives, economic prognostications, and promise programs. I’ve returned with written materials and concrete strategies that I’ll be sharing in meetings and in writing over the weeks and months to come.
What I also want to tell you about today is my grandma. For a variety of personal reasons, Wilda Anderson (née Weiss), was on my mind at that conference, and I often ended up framing what I heard and saw in her terms. She and I were very close as I grew up, and I was her favorite grandchild (or at least that was what she told me). As my grandpa died when I was very young, Grandma Anderson lived alone on the farm in northern Wisconsin, and she was always beside me when I got off the tractor, stacked a load of lumber, gathered the maple sap, harvested the produce, or tended the stock. And, without me every realizing it directly, she was calibrating my moral compass, forming my ethical map.
In many ways, her advice continues to guide my perceptions and strengthen my resolve. A Saturday morning session, for example, provided concrete advice on how to navigate the complexities of federal and state legal issues around undocumented students. I came back with voluminous notes, a connection with a powerful state organizer, and ideas for action. Overall, however, the main thing that I took away from that session is the need to be persistent.
So as I sat in the session, I remembered how Grandma worked over a couple years to help a certain man from “the city” open up his mind. Without rancor or condescension, she got him to realize his narrow-mindedness. He had first stopped at the farm one blustery November afternoon, just before dark, with the wind whipping up dust and wisps of dry snow. The man had come to buy some firewood, and it only took a few comments before Grandma realized she had a problem to solve. Rather than leaving him to his bigotry and returning to the warm hearth, she matched him log for log and engaged him comment for comment. By the time his truck was full, his mind wasn’t changed, but his interest was certainly piqued. He left with much more than $75 worth of cured oak. So he returned to transact business and engage in talk with someone—perhaps for the first time—able to challenge his views in ways that forced him to listen.
He returned later that winter to dig out another cord of wood, again in the summer for the first dozen ears of sweet corn, and again in the fall for a gunny sack of spuds. And each season he returned, Grandma stood by him. Grandma persisted. She refused to give up on her quest to help him see the humanity in everyone, and to give up his reactionary negativity. This single-minded focus eventually paid off. Every time he drove by the farm, he stopped, even if nothing was for sale. Much to my surprise, it turned out that he wasn’t just anyone from the city. This client turned friend was a well-known wealthy businessman from Minneapolis. But for my grandmother, he was simply someone who needed some help in seeing the world differently.
Stories like that flowed through my head throughout the conference. Even all these years after her death, I continue to be inspired by Grandma’s grit and determination, her rock-solid conviction that perseverance pays off.
Thanks for reading. Office hours are, by the way, unchanged for this short week—8am Tuesday and 5pm Wednesday.