It Starts: And I Like Spiders and Snakes


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Not universal opinions, I know, and it is a contextual rule: I was at Prairewoods, a Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration retreat center in Hiawatha on Monday, cutting some dead limbs from pine trees, and photographing students and flowers and trees in between the work.

I didn’t see any snakes, which is too bad, because during last year’s service trip to Prairiewoods, I did, and I don’t mind seeing snakes in their native habitat. Given, of course, that they are Iowa snakes—we don’t run heavily into venomous serpents here, mostly it’s garter snakes. Technically, they do have venom, but it’s not strong enough to do much to you if you’re bigger than a cricket.

The day was cool and foggy, and quickly became sunny and muggy. It felt good to be outside and to do some work that is good for trees. I do like trees.

I hope the students enjoyed themselves, too. Sadly, I was unable to shower before a big community meeting at Mount Mercy, so I showed up in grungy clothes with wood chips on my shoulder. Anyway, additional photos are available on Mount Mercy’s Facebook page.

Later that day, I got to speak at Founder’s Day, the official starting ceremony at MMU. I was introducing Ben Wood, a student who is Editor of the Mount Mercy Times. He promoted student involvement as a key to college success, which it is, and I think he turned “I can” into an acronym that helped him make his point. Sadly, I didn’t take notes so I can’t say more about what Ben said. Another student spoke to promote international travel, so our incoming students heard from their peers that they should join things and travel the globe.

Well, amen.

Students, if you’re reading this, as you strive to change the world, first change yourself, both by stretching yourself beyond classes (Ben’s point) and by going places you’ve never been before (Jennie Dondlinger is the student who spoke on her trip to Europe with an MMU class).

Here’s what I said to set up Ben’s speech:

Hello, my name is Joe Sheller, and I’m an Associate Professor of Communication and faculty advisor for your student newspaper, the Mount Mercy Times.

It’s my pleasure to speak to you and to introduce Ben Wood, who is this year’s Editor in Chief of the Times. Ben is also a resident assistant, a member of the choir, an actor in many plays.

You name it, Ben Wood would do it.

He understands something that is a key to each and every one of you.

Ben Wood knows, because he shows it by his actions, that what you get out of your university years goes well beyond what you learn in your classes.

As adults now, you have more freedom than ever before in your lives. You can choose to succeed, or not. As a former Dean at Mount Mercy famously used to say, every student has a right to fail.

But the good news is that most MMU students succeed. And those that succeed the most know what Ben knows, and do what Ben Wood would do:

Ben joined the staff of the student newspaper, “The Mount Mercy Times,” as its business manager last year. Although his job was to sell advertising, he also wrote many stories. That interest in the editorial product translated into his current job as Editor in Chief.

Flag of MMU Times

Flag of the MMU Times this year. Who would create it? Ben Wood would, of course.

He was worried about applying for the top job. After all, he’s in so many other things—his RA job, SGA, etc., etc. But, I think, in the end, he understood the importance of some words of wisdom that were often shared by Kathi Pudzuvelis, a speech and drama professor who retired last year.

When students came to Kathi to ask if they should do something difficult, like join the student newspaper or try out for a role in a play, she often said: “Life is a swimming pool. Here is the deep end. Jump in.”

MMU is a place that’s rich in “deep ends.” Whatever your major or interest, there are clubs and organizations that are anxious for your involvement. In return, you can get a priceless experience. So join the paper, or SIFE or sing in the choir or walk on for a team or find other ways to get engaged at MMU. It’s what all the smart students do. It’s what Ben Wood would do.

Ben is a jumper into many deep ends. It’s my pleasure to introduce Ben to you. Class of 2016, some people who will try to grab your attention in the next four years aren’t worth listening to. Some are. If I were you, I would listen to Ben Wood.

Well, I think my remarks and Ben’s and Tracy Tunwall’s (she is a Business Professor who introduced Jennie) and Jennie’s were well received, as were the points made by Dr. Melody Graham, our Provost, and Dr. Christopher Blake, our President.

So it starts. No snakes, shucks, but another year underway. The start frankly feels way too busy, which is nobody’s fault but my own, but also invigorating. There’s a nice hopefulness about the start of a new academic year. May it be a year of growth and change, not just for newly trimmed and tended trees at Prairiewoods, but also for students and for the faculty who are privileged to work with them.  Let the learning begin!

MMU service group, two portal classes, at Prairiewoods. Audrey and I, in back on left, are with our classes.

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1 Comment

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One response to “It Starts: And I Like Spiders and Snakes

  1. Cindy

    Very nice speech–Ben will make an awesome editor in chief!

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