Parental leave (and my end of summer book review)
I have to admit to feeling excited by the quickening pace of activity on the campus as last-minute details are attended to in advance of the in-rush of students. I hope to meet some of the students and their parents moving in on Labour Day. That's an encounter that engages me on three levels: first, as president; second, as a former USMC student; and third, as someone who once went through the same process of helping a child (my daughter Kate) move into one of the residences on the St.Mike's campus. That memory of mixed emotions, which I share with my wife, Janet, is still with me. Parental pride and excitement were mingled with undercurrents of parental anxiety. The fabric of our family unit was becoming a little less tightly woven. We could certainly understand this as a necessary enabler of growth. But realizing that didn't make it any easier to get used to. There was also a degree of worry associated with stepping back from day-to-day parental oversight, a feeling that was for Janet and me almost immediately relieved by the cheerful competence of the people who welcomed Kate to St. Michael's.
Rest assured that I will stay in touch with those feelings in the days and weeks ahead. Staying focused on what we owe to our students is absolutely top of mind, but closely allied to that is awareness, fuelled by personal memories, of what we owe their parents.
And with the Fall term almost upon us, it's a good time to share, in no particular order, some favorites from my summer reading list:
Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith.
This profile of Ike captures some of the more complicated substance behind his perpetually sunny facade. That said, it also underlines the consistent power of Ike's radical insight, namely that a leader must at all times exude optimism.
Richard John Neuhaus: A life in the Public Square by Randy Boyagoda.
This book captures the many amazing trajectories in the life of Neuhaus: from the Ottawa Valley to Manhattan; from Lutheran ministry to Catholic priesthood; and, with dazzling confidence, from left to right across the political spectrum. Connecting these diverse transformations is the fact that each plays out--messily, noisily, controversially and always joyfully--in the public eye. RJN's insistence on the important public nature of such discourse is relevant and timely.
Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz.
This is a powerful and also hugely controversial assault on higher education in the US as offered by "elite" institutions, meaning the Ivy League and their closest kin. But it is really a lament about the steady commercialization of higher education and the resulting decline in private morality and public leadership.
Milestones: Memoirs, 1927-1977 by Pope Benedict XVI.
This takes Joseph Ratzinger from childhood in pre-war and wartime Bavaria, through studies and ordination, on to elevation as Archbishop of Munich. What's most notable is the interplay of religious faith, family bonds and intellectual curiosity that sustains the young Ratzinger at a time when many around him are succumbing steadily (and his insights into this process are compelling) to the malign influence of national socialism.
Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi.
I read the English translation of this gem of a novel, set in a pre-war Lisbon that seems always sunny and cooled by Atlantic breezes. But the tone darkens with the steady encroachment of fascist influences. I was struck by how closely Tabucchi's fictional account of otherwise good people embracing deeply evil ideologies aligns with Ratzinger's trenchant personal observations.