John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Something to Aspire To

September 22, 2014John N. GardnerInsights0

John N. Gardner
President

I like to say to some folks about myself that “the jury is in on me.” By this I mean that it is now fully apparent what I have—as my father used to say “amounted to.” But that doesn’t mean I still can’t or shouldn’t have aspirational goals. We all should always nourish those.

And I was recently treated to an experience that suggested to me an aspirational goal, by attending a concert featuring the singer Tony Bennett and his forty year-old daughter, who were performing at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, MA.

My wife and I had heard Mr. Bennett approximately 10 years ago at the same venue. The thought had occurred to me then that that might be the last opportunity. Thank goodness it wasn’t. And when we heard him recently it was just 3 weeks after Mr. Bennett’s 88th birthday.

Out he came on the stage at not a walking pace but with a short jog like gait. And he was dressed in a palm beach off white jacket, white shirt, necktie, black dress slacks, belt, shirt tucked in, and black dress shoes. This could have been 1954 or 64 or 74 or 84. You get the point.

And all he had to do was to just be out there, doing his thing. My accountant regularly reminds me: “John, stick with what you know!” And Mr. Bennett was sticking with what he knew.

It was wonderful to see such a venerable performer still at or at least near the top of his game. Perhaps his voice didn’t quite have the full range of pitch it once did. I don’t know. I am not capable of judging that. I just know I enjoyed and was inspired by him.

The night before we had attended another concert at Tanglewood, performed by another male singer, less than half the age of Mr. Bennett, Josh Groban. He was not dressed in the manner of a mid twentieth century gentleman. I don’t know what a  21st century gentleman dresses like. And his shirt was not tucked in. And he boasted constantly about all his celebrity gigs, awards, etc. In contrast Mr. Bennett offered no hype, no self-promotion. He didn’t have to. All he had to be was who he has been, who he is. He just was. He just is.

As I sat there and started running the numbers, I compared his age to mine and what it would take for me to come out on a stage and deliver some kind of performance when I am 88. And this quickly became an aspirational goal. And it occurred to me that the 50th anniversary of the Annual National Conference on The First-Year Experience will be a fine such occasion for me to do just that. So I will see you there, I hope. I know I will be there.

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