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President's Blog: "I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples"
“I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
--St. Theresa of Calcutta
It goes without saying that the past several months have featured some challenging moments in our nation and around the world. In certain moments, such as the relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters in the United States, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, we have witnessed the power of the human spirit. Love and compassion are present in moments of pain and suffering, especially when people allow themselves to act selflessly and do good for others. The recent tragedy in Las Vegas reminds us of the fragility of life. In my thoughts and prayers I seek answers to many questions of “why” these things happen to good people. I am reminded that good people throughout history have endured and taught valuable lessons about courage, hope, and love. This month I reflect on two good people who inspired others to do good things.
I received my principal certification through the Seattle University leadership program led by Dr. Michael Silver. Dr. Silver spent 17 years as superintendent of the Tukwilia School District and then served at Seattle University for 10 years in the educational leadership program. The son of Holocaust survivors in WWII, Dr. Silver was a dedicated student of history, and he devoured books and articles on leadership practices. He assigned to his graduate school students the likes of Good to Great, The Fifth Discipline, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and Leadership Jazz.
My favorite lecture came during our discussion of the book Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky. The authors drew upon the metaphor of the dance floor and the balcony:
Let’s say you are dancing in a big ballroom. Most of your attention focuses on your dance partner, and you reserve whatever is left to make sure you don’t collide with dancers close by. When someone asks you later about the dance, you exclaim, “The band played great, and the place surged with dancers.”
But, if you had gone up to the balcony and looked down on the dance floor, you might have seen a very different picture. You would have noticed all sorts of patterns. . . you might have noticed that when slow music played, only some people danced; when the tempo increased, others stepped onto the floor; and some people never seemed to dance at all. . . . the dancers all clustered at one end of the floor, as far away from the band as possible. You might have reported that participation was sporadic, the band played too loud, and you only danced to fast music.
. . .The only way you can gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing yourself from the fray. If you want to affect what is happening, you must return to the dance floor. So you need to be both among the dancers and up on the balcony. That’s where the magic is, going back and forth between the two, using one to leverage the other. (https://gettingchangeright.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/the-dance-floor-and-the-balcony)
Dr. Silver taught us these valuable insights, to look at the world through multiple lenses; see what others see; change your perspective; and above all, be a good person. Perhaps his colleague at Seattle University, Laurie Stevahn, said it best, remembering him for “his unwavering commitment to his students and the support he provided each one of them, for his wisdom in times of change, for his positive "can do" attitude even in the face of challenging circumstances, and for his love of God as the foundation of his life.” Dr. Silver passed away in 2014 at the age of 66. He left a tremendous legacy of leadership and best practices at Seattle University. One of his crowing achievements was a leadership coaching/mentor program for graduate students and working professionals at Seattle University.
We can all likely look back to an influential mentor or teacher in our lives—Dr. Michael Silver was that person for me—and I genuinely believe we continue to learn, grow, and perhaps avoid path dependency. A colleague recently shared a collection of his essays with me—the publication of which was a fundraiser for his school. As a teacher of theology, he often reflected on notable and influential leaders. One such person, St. Alphonsus Rodriquez (1532-1617), was a name I had not heard before and I was moved by his story.
St. Alphonsus experienced much pain and suffering in his life, beginning with the death of his father as a young teenager. Forced to quit school and take over the family business, Alphonsus left his peers to serve his family. In later years he would lose his wife (during childbirth), his mother, and his three children. When his business failed, and in poor health, he turned to the Jesuits in Segovia, Spain, but his age and lack of education prevented him from joining the order. The Jesuits required he go back to school where he enrolled amongst much younger students.
At age 38, he was accepted as a lay brother and sent to serve at a college in Majorca, Spain where he remained for the next 45 years until his death. He was officially a doorkeeper and porter, but was also known as a spiritual adviser and mentor to hundreds of students who passed through the college. He encouraged a young Peter Claver who become one of the great Jesuit missionaries. Throughout his life he modeled humility, grace, and courage.
As the Jesuits are known to “find God in all things,” Alphonsus would answer a knock at the door with the response “I am coming Lord!” His devotion to service and his kind manner inspired generations of Jesuit students. Author James Martin, SJ, once wrote about Alphonsus saying he was canonized as a saint for his “lifelong humility.” Alphonsus treated everyone he met with love and compassion until his death at age 85. He was canonized a saint in 1888, and his feast day is celebrated on October 31. This year marks the 400th anniversary of his passing.
St. Alphonsus responded to life’s challenges with a simple strategy: humility, kindness, and faith. What a legacy to be remembered by for over 400 years! I pray our students will chart their path to create a legacy filled with love, joy, and hope. We hope our students will change the world, one person at a time, and live happy, healthy lives. Above all, we wish for our students to remain true to themselves, their family, and their faith. And as Michael Silver and St. Alphonsus left their own legacies, we pray for our students to become Christlike leaders who will transform the world.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., wrote the following poem in honor of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
Honour is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.
Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.