Thursday, December 20, 2012

Standing In Awe

Kyle Pendleton, Shelley Brown-Dobek, Doug Case and me on stage. 

Today I am having lunch with a former student who has become a friend. It really is one of the best parts about being an advisor for people in the college years... They grow up, get jobs, find partners and you were there to see it all begin, grow, develop.

Earlier this month, I had a similar experience at the annual meeting of the professional association I belong to. This time, though, I was the student. It has been nearly 20 years since I sat in my advisor's office asking questions, developing plans, and figuring out who I was going to be post-college. During that time, and regularly since then, he has been a listening ear and a resource. More importantly, he has been my friend. What a sense of completeness I had as I realized that I was mentoring and caring for others as I had been (and still am) mentored and cared for. At the close of my conference, my Greek Advisor received an award that I would equate to the Gold Medal of Fraternity Advising. I had the honor of introducing him alongside one of my closest friends. Below is the text of what I shared as I introduced Doug... My friend.

The Robert H. Shaffer award is presented annually to an individual in the field of higher education who has demonstrated a long-term commitment to fraternities and sororities. I am honored to be able to introduce the 2012 recipient tonite. Doug Case has a legacy of work demonstrating his commitment to fostering positive change in the fraternity and sorority community, building partnerships in higher education and the interfraternal community, and mentoring both new and seasoned professionals and, tonite, we celebrate him.

It is difficult to know what to say about a colleague that has mentored, guided and inspired you for 20 years. I met Doug as a 19 year old Panhellenic Executive Board officer at San Diego State University. Like all good student leaders, I was scared and intimidated of “Doug”. In fact, for the first 6 months, I am not 100% sure he spoke to me. Over the last 2 years of my college career, I worked closely with Doug, often seeing him daily in what was then the Housing and Residence Life Office. It seems that now would be the time to insert a fantastic photo of one of Doug’s famous colorful sweaters or the comb he always had in his pocket, but this was a time when camera’s had real film. Phones were on desks with a curling cord. And, for the peace of mind of those involved, many things were not captured on film. Doug, you’re welcome.

As an undergraduate, Doug was my advisor, but more significantly, my supporter and my sounding board. Upon entering graduate school and then my professional position, he maintained all three of these roles. Doug was ever available for small questions like “How do you run a grade report?” and larger ones like “What do I do now?” after I walked in on a hazing incident in a classroom. Doug taught me two important lessons, that this work can be a career and that this work can be a vocation. And, please make no mistake that those are two distinctive lessons. Doug’s work inspires vocation. It is a quiet humility that approaches students and colleagues to move us forward toward the common good of fraternity life.

In our work we deal with some of the greatest joy and the greatest sorrow. One of my most vivid memories of Doug was his speech in awarding the chapter president of the year award at our Greek Awards Banquet. He said, “An advisor never wants to hear the phone ring in the middle of the night, but when it is the campus police calling to report a student death it is unthinkable.” In my 21 year old state of mind, it had not occurred to me that an advisor would be grieving the same way that we did as students. In that moment of humanness, he showed me what care and compassion looked like in this work. In one of his nomination letters, our friend and colleague Kim Braun Padulo shared about Doug’s mentoring, advocacy and work for the LGBTQ community. She closed by saying, “Scores of fraternity and sorority members have benefitted from his leadership, whether they know it or not.”

As we celebrate you tonite, Doug, I could not agree with her more. In our work, the efforts we extend can be exhausting and tiring. Sometimes, those efforts are exceedingly repetitive. But, it is life-giving to know that maybe, just maybe, I am allowing someone one of those moments that you have provided so generously to me over the past 20 years.

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