Dear Southwestern University community,

We are a related group of three plus four, and today, we left Connecticut for Texas on a drive of approximately 1,800 miles through New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas, finally putting down anchor in the Lone Star State.

Our traveling party consists of my son, Nelson, who graduated yesterday from Union College with two bachelor’s degrees sans commencement; my favorite cousin, Julie, mother of three and emergency room nurse; and me, proud mother of a college graduate, Twain aficionado, and incoming president of Southwestern University. Our plus four consists of three cats—none of my choosing but I love them anyway—and a barely trained bulldog puppy that I did choose, who is sweet the first five minutes after waking and then endlessly annoying in her need to chew everything in her path: a chair, wood, plastic bin, tire, my slippers.

Unless my cousin possesses a secret talent, we will most certainly, despite the GPS apps on our phones, be frequently lost. We will ask for directions and will have to learn to listen closely when given directions. Progress will be made; however, there will be wrong turns, and the road forward will not always be evident. Many an argument has started with me asking my son if I turn left or right when I approach a fork in the road and he responds, “Go straight.”

Every journey to me feels like a novel, and I’m always fascinated by first lines. I enjoy memorizing them—that’s the English major in me—and during the three months of shelter-in-place orders, I looked for a fitting quotation for this road trip. There’s Huckleberry Finn beckoning us and simultaneously shilling for Samuel Clemens in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter”; the start of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson, “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold”; and the brief, jolting sentences from Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning, “It was not my fault,” and Octavia Butler’s Kindred, “I lost an arm on my last trip home” always pique my curiosity.

All noteworthy beginnings, and perhaps my freshly minted liberal-arts graduate is right when he refuses to identify wayfaring dichotomies. We stand, at this tick of humanity’s clock, at a crossroads in the midst of global protests to end racial oppression, a global pandemic of unprecedented proportions, and a worldwide economic recession. This moment demands a new way of writing, of speaking, of acting, of hearing, and the recognition that Black Lives Matter. At this juncture, understanding and synthesis are essential, and Southwestern University’s liberal-arts education and emphasis on the whole person have never been more important, more necessary, or more exciting. Our motto, Non Quis Sed Quid, resonates with imbued meaning.

I believe that there lies before us the opportunity to create a more inclusive future and the America that was promised but never realized, “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” We have plans to make this coming year as a community of educators, learners, and activists that will directly affect and shape our university.

We will be driving for a week and, fingers crossed, will arrive in Georgetown on Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, a Texas state holiday and a day of celebration. With my feet on the ground at Southwestern University, I will be so grateful to join all of you and ready to begin our work together on this trip of a lifetime.


Laura Skandera Trombley