Greetings from the Higher Education Community
Professor of Modern Languages, SUNY Potsdam
¡Muy buenas tardes a todos! Es un verdadero placer para mí estar esta tarde aquí con ustedes.
Dear students, colleagues, trustees, alumni, and members of Southwestern University,
Congratulations! By having Professor Laura Skandera Trombley as your President not only have you attracted here a top administrator, but you have also joined in conversation with a community of the most prestigious scholars, innovators, and today’s most competent educators of America. You are, indeed, fortunate!
I was myself fortunate to meet Laura when we were both fresh out of graduate school, starting our college-teaching careers in upstate New York. At the time, she had met all expectations for tenure earlier than anyone else in her cohort. From then on, I have been following her inspiring career.
Meeting Laura when I was a junior faculty member at SUNY Potsdam, one of the colleges of State University of New York was indeed a piece of good fortune. Having arrived in the United States only five years earlier from Chile and acutely aware of my accent, but energized by many academic and personal dreams, I needed mentoring. Laura gave me all I needed to successfully navigate my tenure process. Then other colleagues sought her advice too. She created a mentoring program that stayed in place for decades; she concentrated on procedures that needed improvement and searched for ways and resources to fix them. Policies needed to be established, administrators needed to be trained and educated. So, she researched, studied, and sought expert advice to propose the best possible changes. Soon enough important amendments were introduced and not only junior faculty, but Deans and the Provost secured Laura’s advice, and our President appointed her as his cabinet’s advisor.
At the same time, she was a splendid teacher, students adored her classes because they were participatory, challenging, rigorous, innovative, and fun. The very first syllabi including women of color authors in the English department at my college were designed by her.
With the same energy Laura pursued her scholarly research agenda, presenting, organizing conferences, publishing, and of course, following clues and traces that Mark Twain left behind in those places he lived and worked at. Some of my precious memories include long summer drives accompanying her through New England’s little towns searching for letters, notes, local newspapers, or Twain’s relatives; and she found exquisite information that came to enrich Twain’s cultural and literary figure in many ways. Indeed, she did. Reading her books is a pleasure to the scholar as is to the aficionado or the person unfamiliar with Twain’s work. Anyone can follow her wonderful journey of discovery in a writing that – while is fully researched and annotated – is never pretentious nor vain but clearly thoughtful and compelling. In one of those trips I just mentioned, I recall her saying we needed to make a stop to see someone that wanted to talk about Twain for a documentary. She said, “I’ll do that while we have lunch if you don’t mind.” A lovely lunch with distinguished filmmaker Ken Burns we had, and then we went on to the next goal, to the next Library.
You will be benefiting by that kind of work ethics, virtues, and passions here at Southwestern, because in becoming an administrator, Laura Skandera-Trombley has not changed who she is. As you know, she has kept her old friends, as well as the unconditional devotion to her son she had when he was born. At the job, she still works more than anyone else, she always devotes time to her scholarship, she takes into account diverse approaches and points of view, and she always embarks the community in the necessary process of change, often using her vast experiences so that the results become sustainable. To name just one institution, see how much Pitzer College in California changed after the decade of her presidency. You must be impressed by her fund-raising talent– it will not surprise me to see your institution benefiting from the difference Skandera Trombley can make in that regard –. Myself, I was impressed by the modernization of Pitzer’s curriculum, the inventiveness of its new programs reflecting students’ interests, its promotion and creation of opportunities for diverse faculty and staff, and Pitzer’s embrace of in the Fulbright program and Study Abroad programs for students and faculty alike.
Because in recent past years we both lost our parents, I have told Laura how my mother used to inquire about her every time I visited Chile. She fondly remembered an invitation to meet her own mother, and how even though our mothers spoke different languages the two women had shared the love they had for us and they were able to communicate, they laughed aloud together, and had a memorable visit. It’s exactly as Maya Angelus observed: that people will forget what you said or did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
You hired your new President for her expertise, and what I know is that you will become enchanted by her dedication, her genuine love of teaching and learning, her wit, and that easy smile that facilitates encounters and dialogues among people speaking different languages. I know that Laura Skandera-Trombley, my best friend, will be an inspiration for all students in this campus – no matter who they are and where they come from - to freely create their own story, their own path, one that only our imagination can help us now anticipate.
Writer Isabel Allende reminds us that no one can create our story for us, ‘thus the power is in you, you are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend, or not,’ the author says. Thus, I say to the students here today: do it, create your own story!
Tú puedes. Tú claro que puedes!