John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

My Favorite Day of the Year

John Gardner
President
I guess if I were pushed as to what is my favorite day of the academic year, I would have to choose the opening day, the day the faculty first gather after a long summer’s hiatus and the students return. Commencement would be my second, but a distant second. For nothing matches this opening day for optimism, the opportunity to begin again, resolutions, and a wonderful occasion to exchange gossip. And it’s an occasion to learn what the administration has done over the summer in our absence—we always return wondering about that.
I am thinking, and therefore writing, about this because today my wife, Betsy and I visited a small private university campus, and had the privilege of participating in this annual ritual. I just loved it. And I realized I needed it more this year than any in my now 44 year career. Why?
Because this ritual, the feelings it evokes, the traditions it follows, the hope it presages, is just so predictable. And I needed predictability more than ever this year.
What a year! Well, in case you have already forgotten it, something we all took for granted has just been wiped away: our United States triple AAA credit rating. Our President has told us, no matter, we are “still a triple AAA country”. I don’t think very many believe him. I know I don’t—even though I would like to believe him.
And the ability of our Congress to act rationally and for the greater good of the nation—we now know we can no longer respect that.
And what about my father’s political party, the party of fiscal stability? We can no longer count on it to pursue the kind of rational policies that any household in America would if it could: both cut expenditures and raise revenue.

I could go down the list. The list of our established institutions, the ones we used to count on. We can’t anymore.

But we can count on students to return to us each year, including many new and naïve ones. They come to us no matter what we charge them, no matter how much more our fees went up this year than the consumer price index. So let’s hear it for death, taxes (oops, by this I mean no new taxes), and new students. Thank goodness then for the students. I need them more than ever. And I need our optimistic beginning of school year fervor too. Let’s try to make it last—at least ‘til midterm. And if it doesn’t, well that’s OK, because we get to do this again next year.

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