Who is Your Legacy?
Last night we honored one of the pillars of our profession (and a longtime member of Region 2), Dr. Susan Komives, who is retiring after over 40 years in student affairs. I’m fairly certain I do not need to mention the legacy that Susan leaves the profession, which is evidenced by the lines of folks who wait to meet her after sessions or the random tweets proclaiming “OMG, I just sat next to Susan Komives”. Yes, her legacy is well documented throughout the annals of our recent professional history. What is not as documented is the personal legacy that permeates our profession; the countless number of professionals she recruited to do research with or write chapters in a book or she pushed towards the degree finish line. It’s the personal legacy that I will remember most as Susan steps back.
I was fortunate to have attended the University of Maryland for my Master’s Degree. Very early on in my time there, I felt quite like a fish out of water, wondering sometimes a loud if my admission was some time kind of paperwork error. I was at the time, and still continue to be, much more practitioner than scholar. Yet, throughout my time at Maryland, and even after I left, Susan was a consistent source of encouragement and motivation. What really mattered, though, was how Susan “remembered”. Susan would notice something in class that you perked up about when discussing and would soon be sending you articles or recommending further reading. Even 13 years later, Susan still reminds me of how amused she was at my response when she called to let me know I was admitted to the program (I was on a shuttle bus to another program’s “preview days” when I got the phone call). What’s even more amazing is I know of countless colleagues who can share stories of how they knew that Susan cared.
The human element is so important to our profession. While attending sessions and learning about best practices or new research is extremely helpful, I would venture to guess it is the opportunity to connect with colleagues and old friends that bring most of us back year after to year to conferences. The libraries and online databases will collect and categorize the text of what we contribute and leave behind year after year. But the personal legacies, the lives we have taken an interest in and impacted through our active presence in them, might have the most lasting impact.