Bearings: A Monthly Column
Closing Time and New Beginnings
May 12, 2022
“There is no truth. There is only perception.”
― Gustauve Flaubert
Dear Ursinus Community,
I recently visited a restaurant where part of the décor was a wall of plates from another era. The china pattern is called “Blue Willow,” and I was immediately transported to the days when grocery stores offered families the opportunity to buy dishware, starting at 99 cents per plate if you spent a certain amount on groceries. The idea was to build up your grocery bill on your way to completing a set of dishes for your home. I bought only one of these plates. And then I decided (as a struggling mom of four boys) that I did not need to increase my grocery bill to acquire a set of dishes.
And then it happened.
Along the way, that one, single plate was given a name by my sons: “The bluebird plate.” And because it was one-of-a-kind at the table when we ate dinner, it became—you guessed it—THE plate to have. Before progressive dinners and special cuisines became the trend, we always had that bluebird plate for our family’s most memorable occasions.
I could talk about marketing, differentiation, or just the advantages of having a unique palette that warranted a favorite platter. But I choose, instead, to focus on PERCEPTION. For it was due to the perception that the “bluebird plate” was rare, one-of-a-kind, and distinct that it found its way into family lore.
This week we celebrate the end of a successful academic year and, with it, the commencement of our seniors. We’ve all had a front-row seat as they’ve made their way from life here at the college to the life of adulthood, with all of its attendant glories and responsibilities. In these last days on campus and as they walk on stage, our seniors will carry with them a perception of Ursinus, constructed over time and in the most personal of ways. Having spent many evenings with these students during our “senior salutes” at the President’s House, I can share a few of their notions of what makes Ursinus uniquely special: academic rigor and co-curricular or athletic experiences that both challenged and motivated them to become more than they ever imagined and emboldened them in unexpected ways; resilience, combined with the earthquake and aftershocks that were aspects of their unforeseen COVID college experience; friendships in many shapes, forms, and places that have broadened their horizons and will likely last a lifetime; and so much more.
For the most part, our Class of 2022’s perception of Ursinus is positive, but, as our strategic planning survey appears to indicate, there is a longing for the next version of a “bluebird plate.” They have shared additional viewpoints—it is too easy to feel unheard, that we need to better prioritize our students, that both tuition and student debt are very real and daunting concerns—because we have inspired our students to become lifelong learners, adaptive, and craving more.
As I face my own sort of commencement, albeit after nearly a quarter century as a professional over two terms on campus, I find myself in a similar position. For the most part, my perception of Ursinus, past and present, looks a lot like that “bluebird plate”: a home with special meaning and of sentimental value. Ursinus is different from the educational experiences of friends and family who attended different colleges or universities. My perception of Ursinus continues to be founded on relationships both in and out of the classroom, big questions, a common intellectual experience borne out of a tradition of common summer readings, and a history of imbuing in students from the outset the idea that they could become more as the college challenged, prodded, nudged, and inspired them to those heights. But, just like the seniors and all the students I have come to know so much better in my presidency—whom I love and respect so well—I, too, long for what is next.
As I leave with a deep satisfaction of what Ursinus is at its core, I also long to see what the “plate of walls” will be here in the future, both immediately and over the longer term. When I first brought home that 99-cent add-on dish at the grocery store, I had no idea what it would mean or become to our family. So, too, Ursinus is at an inflection point. It is embracing new leaders with ideas and outlooks that will seem like different dishes on a traditional table. But, in time—perhaps a very short time—people will understand that there is a “bluebird plate” in the mix. May it be as rare and wonderful to you as a family focal point as it was to four young boys many years ago.
“Closing time. Time for you to go out to the places you will be from.
Closing time. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
I ended every “senior salute” with this quote from the band Semisonic. They know it well. And I am starting to live these words myself—more than simply sharing them as I’ve done for quite some time. As I write my last Bearings, take on my last official duties at the college, and finish my interim presidency, I recognize that while it is “closing time” in some ways, it is the time for me to pass through the Eger Gateway myself and move to the places I will be from. I will have a new beginning that starts at the end of this one, just beyond the edge of that passageway.
I feel very much like a college senior again, reflective of my Ursinus experience and the people who made it so, hopeful for my future, and sentimental in the knowledge that something I have cherished for a period of years will never be repeated.
Most of all, however, I am grateful just to have had the opportunity to be a student, faculty member, administrator, and your first female president. Before it was embedded in the title of the book, Ursinus was a college that changed—and has continued to change—my life. I hope that I have served my alma mater with grace, and I pray that we all will continue to embrace the essence of Ursinus. For therein lies its greatness.
It has been an honor, privilege, and labor of love to serve you this past year. Every single day has been a memorable day to be a Leading Bear.
Jill Leauber Marsteller ’78, P’18
This is the seventh in a series of monthly columns from President Marsteller titled, Bearings. If you’d like to share your thoughts or reflections on this piece, or those moments in time that have shaped who you’ve become, please feel free to email us at email@example.com.