Stuff, Memories and the Stuff of Memories

After 38 years, 4 institutions in 3 states, and 6 leadership positions including 2 presidencies, this is what I am taking home: 7 cartons of leadership books, awards, gifts and photos.

In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo advises us to “keep what brings us joy.” I am so fortunate to have had a career filled with joy, but I don’t need “stuff” to remember it all. So I have passed on or discarded many plaques and paper weights, and saved only what is most meaningful and what I can fit in my home office. (Well, perhaps a little more than I can fit).

Among the mementos I have kept:

Pictures of me with students at graduation, the event that each year gave meaning to the board meetings, budget hearings, and paperwork that makes up so much of the presidency.  I am still in touch with some of these students and proud of their continued accomplishments.

A framed letter from President Clinton acknowledging an article by one of my students in the “AAWCC Journal” which was handed to him when he spoke at the AACC Convention in 1995.  As a returning adult student at Berkshire Community College, Sharon changed her life and the lives of her two sons. She and I learned from each other.

A rock with the Korean word for perseverance written on it, given to me by two faculty for the support (fiscal and moral) I provided them in developing an interdisciplinary summer bridge program.

And a small sculpture of a horse another faculty member brought me from China because it was a symbol of strength and leadership.

A photograph in the Berkshire Eagle of my hands addressing a community college stamped envelope issued by the U.S. Post Office commemorating the 100th anniversary of community colleges in 2001. The ring I wore then was so distinctive people told me they saw my picture in the paper!

A certificate from the Center for Creative Leadership signed by all the Group VII Kellogg National Fellows. The Fellowship was one of the most profound leadership experiences of my life. The week at CCL led me to organize an Outward Bound trip down the Colorado River, moving from simulations to an environment where the risks were real and teamwork essential for survival. You never forget the person who belayed for you when you were rock climbing and slipped, more than once, before you made it to the top.

Books like Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, whose wisdom has inspired me, Women’s Ways of Knowing by Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberg and Tarule, women I was fortunate enough to work with and whose photograph I took for the book jacket, and Bad Leadership by Barbara Kellerman, who was my doctoral advisor. My dissertation, “Women’s Moral Development in Contemporary Fiction,” is in one of the boxes. It was based primarily on the work of Carol Gilligan which appeared when theories of adult development were still derived from the experiences of white males at Harvard. My “non-traditional” doctorate, from the Institute for Leadership Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University, allowed me to design a program that integrated my career goals (becoming a community college president) and my passion (creating opportunities for women).

This might all seem like “stuff” to the guys who are helping me move, but to me they are memories of my leadership journey.