Bearings: A Monthly Column

On Hope and Reslience

Bearings BannerDecember 15, 2021


Dear Ursinus Colleagues and Friends,

For those of us who know her, Ethel Richards ’05 is that friend who best embodies the spirit of hope. I saw it myself this November, when I was in Georgia and had the good fortune of joining her for breakfast. Over a long cup of coffee, she told me that she always seemed to have to chart a new course or different path in pursuit of higher education and her professional dreams. And when she would lament that winding journey to her mother, Ethel would simply hear these words:

“Well, Ethel, at least you get to begin again.”

Today, Ethel leads change in organizations, helping others who are often adrift think differently—strategically—about their vision, and purpose, and goals. She gives others the hope of beginning again.

What a wonderful gift it was for me to hear, particularly at this time of year. After all, December is really about celebrating light, and unity, and community. For some, it’s about a new birth; for others, a re-birth. Sometimes, it can be difficult to find that light. After all, we wake up and drive home while it’s dark outside, so often overwhelmed by the sheer obligations of the season and a workload that hasn’t diminished; the end of a marking period, the wish for more hours in a day. ‘Tis the season to be jolly? Bah, Humbug!

With students intensely studying for finals or scurrying to complete papers and finish research, this season of “giving” too often takes on a whole new meaning for all of us. It’s why I think there’s no better holiday anthem for our wonderful campus community than Ethel’s simple message: persevere—and, in doing so, we get to begin again.

***

I’ve skied once in my life, on a field trip I chaperoned in Wisconsin with my best teacher friend. I quickly traded in the bunny hill for the downhill slope and, when I jumped off the lift and looked down, I could hear some laughter off to the side. I turned to my spotters—two students—and remember asking, “How do you do this? I cannot even see where I am supposed to end up!” Then, I threatened their young academic careers unless I made it down with anything less than a few bruises!

I managed, with a few tumbles along the way. And those spotters made it to college, unscathed by the experience. Even today, I think back—with some fondness—and realize that life (and its winding nature that Ethel spoke of) is like that ski slope. Most of us have absolutely no idea how to begin, let alone complete our journey, but forward progress, some reliable momentum and a sense of balance is what we all crave. Hope and resilience can always carry us forward.

While I have wisely been told that “hope is not a strategy,” I firmly subscribe to the idea that hope is the inspiration for believing—in yourself, in life, in a better future. And resilience is what prompts us to persevere despite all the bumps in the road—or several slick patches on a ski slope.

For this Bearings piece, I felt compelled to remind us just how powerful “hope” and “resilience” truly are. In my current role as interim president, I have often been asked about my professional journey. While it may appear that everything happened in lockstep, it was actually quite the opposite. I’ve had so many conversations with you and realize that many of you have had that same winding journey: Our careers zig and zag like the swivel turns of a skier. I pivoted from teaching to an early professional role I never even knew existed when I was in college; Furthermore, the Ursinus student Jill Leauber would never have imagined all the opportunities that ultimately came her way, including this role as Ursinus’s first female president. In that context, I hope I can be that verbal “tap on the shoulder” that says uncertainty can be a great friend.

I also recognize the challenges of balancing work and family, more in this season and during a pandemic, than ever. As a working mother who bore four sons, I respect you all for the diligent effort, empathy, and incredible commitment you offer to Ursinus each day, while also giving so much of yourself to one another and to your friends and families. I especially recognize that, as we wind down this year, so many of us feel the added pressures of a workplace environment that hasn’t slowed down.

So, amid this “most wonderful time of the year,” if you aren’t quite “feeling it,” I ask that you recall all the times you were resilient. Call on your capacity for hope and never be afraid to ask for help.

You have provided so much strength and support for others, especially for me, and for that I am grateful and humbled.

Happy holidays, fellow Bears! A new year is just around the corner. As we begin again with a renewed sense of purpose, I’d like to close with a poem by Emily Dickinson about the impact and positive power of hope. I’ve often leaned into this poem, especially in life’s most difficult moments, to help carry me through those twists and turns that gave me pause:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Sincerely,

Jill Leauber Marsteller ’78, P’18
President

 

This is the third 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 presidentsoffice@ursinus.edu.