Learning, Remembering, Connecting: A Tribute to our Retiring Colleagues
Dean Ralph Alberico
Just as individuals, cultures and societies change and evolve, so do organizations. There comes a time in the life of every organization when all of its members know that things will not be the same as they once were. Right now, we are experiencing such a time. Never before have so many individuals, each for their own reasons, made individual decisions that will affect our entire organization. We are like a flock of birds or school of fish. When enough of our members change direction, it changes the direction that all of us must take. Yet even as we shift direction temporarily, our course remains steady.
Back row: Johlene Hess, Debra Ryman, Jeff Clark, Mary Ann Chatelain, Lynn Cameron, Darlene Newman, Mary Pettit. Seated: Tillie Hannah, Jerry Gill, Judy Anderson. Not pictured: Bruce Mathias, Candace Miller.
With twelve people retiring and several more moving on to jobs in other places, we are in a place that we’ve never been in before. I think that everyone who works in JMU Libraries and Educational Technologies has mixed feelings about this development. It is common in these situations to calculate the combined years of experience of the people who are leaving. Looking only at the twelve people who are retiring, we are losing over 350 years of experience and collective memory. That is a lot. We are happy for those who have decided to retire or move on to new careers. We want to send them off in good style. And we’ll miss them.
Judy Anderson, Lynn Cameron, Mary Ann Chatelain, Jeff Clark, Jerry Gill, Tillie Hannah, Jody Hess, Bruce Matthias, Candie Miller, Darlene Newman, Mary Petit and Debbie Ryman are all retiring this year -- an even dozen. As anyone who has ever tried to eat that many donuts knows, that is a lot. What an extraordinary group of talented and interesting people. They are just as accomplished outside the workplace as they are at work. They are artists, musicians, naturalists, cooks, cineastes, scholars, writers, storytellers, gardeners, world travelers, even a beekeeper and an amateur astronomer -- connoisseurs of all things good and fine.
As a group their record of achievement at work is equally impressive. I wish I had the space to list all of the workplace firsts associated with this group of people, all of the accomplishments, each of the triumphs, each of the contributions to our university and our profession. I assure you the list would be much longer than anyone could read in one sitting. We owe a lot to these folks. Without their contributions we would not enjoy the stellar reputation that we now enjoy. Whatever measure of fame and influence that we have is largely due to their efforts. Right now, many of us feel an impetus to pick their brains for every last piece that they can contribute to our collective wisdom and institutional history.
Just thinking about this is daunting. We have already begun recruiting to fill current and anticipated vacancies. This will be a challenge. Yet there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future. Instead of thinking in terms of the collective experience and memory that we will be losing, we are better off thinking in terms of ourselves as a learning organization where memories are preserved and connections are made. From that perspective, the learning, the memories and the connections represented by the people that are leaving us are for more important than any bits of wisdom we might glean from them in the last days before they leave.
We are a learning organization. Just think of the things that generations of students, faculty and scholars have learned from these people. Think of the thousands of positive interactions – in the classroom, at service desks, getting help on the phone or online – there are so many ways that these people have made a real difference. Think of the first year student, right out of high school, who encounters a friendly face and receives knowledgeable advice that helps them learn something new. Think of the adult student who has not been to college in years. Think of the new faculty member who needs help acquiring information from another library to inform research and publication needed in pursuit of tenure. Think of the long time faculty member who all of a sudden needs to learn about using technology in their teaching. Think of the inquirer who needs assistance in navigating the complex landscape of law, business, interdisciplinary research, technology or media.
Think of the many ways that our colleagues have helped to develop and institutionalize a culture of learning and how the programs, systems and guides that they have developed will enable learning for many years in the future. Just as these people have promoted learning among the communities we serve, they have helped us learn as individuals and as an organization. Closer to home, each of our employees should take time to reflect on the things they have learned from our retiring colleagues. These people set many, many others on a path of learning, a path that has no final destination. It is a path that we will always be on. Learning never stops. After reflecting on what I have learned from these colleagues, I am not as worried about picking up those last bits of wisdom. And when I realize that everyone who is retiring will still be around – after all, this is not an eulogy – it gives me reassurance that there is still a lot to be learned from our retired faculty and staff.
We are a memory institution. Collecting and preserving knowledge, in all of its forms, is at the core of what we do. Think of the collections that these colleagues have helped to acquire, build, develop and maintain. Think of the efficiencies that we have achieved, the ways we have been able to stretch every dollar in order to build something of value to current and future generations of scholars. Think of all the time and effort it takes to get a book on the shelf and make record of what that book is about and where it is found. The next time that you check out a book, read a journal article, look at a movie or listen to a recording, take some time to reflect on the role our colleagues played in the complicated process of developing a cultural memory that will outlast all of us. At a personal level, those of us who still work here should take time to remember these colleagues and everything that they have done for us. I’ve known many of them for over twenty years. That represents a treasure chest of memories. Those memories will endure in the same way that the knowledge we acquire as an institution will endure.
We are about connections. The belief that ideas and people and knowledge are inter-connected is fundamental to us. Our success is built upon the relationships that we have established and the many ways that we enable people to make connections to ideas and one another. Think of the scholar discovering something new in our catalog. Think of all of the work it takes behind the scenes to allow a student or faculty member to effortlessly look at a journal article or watch a movie. Savor that moment when a student realizes that there is a web of knowledge where new discoveries are based on what came before. Think of the introductions made, the collaborations, the teams and the communities that our colleagues have helped to create. Reflect on the connections our colleagues have made, in the classroom, among groups of students and in the virtual world. And reflect on your own connections with this amazing group of people. Who among us has a mentor among those who are leaving? How many of us have established lifelong friendships with those who are moving on? We needn’t fret about making new connections with people who are simply leaving our building. We are not running out of time. Our connections have already been made and they cannot be broken.
Judy, Lynn, Mary Ann, Jeff, Jerry, Tillie, Jody, Bruce, Candie, Darlene, Mary and Debbie. As you leave our flock we will wheel off on a new tack, sometimes flying straight, other times blown to a new course by the winds of change. We are not worried about getting lost; you have helped set a direction for us and we know where we need to go. You are a part of us and we are a part of you. We learned a lot from you. We will always remember you. Stay connected. Goodbye and Godspeed.