Tag Archives: Mount Mercy University

Memories of the Class of 2017


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Dr. Ron Feldt, retiring professor of psychology. See you at Half Price Books, Ron.

Commencement weekend at Mount Mercy University has come and gone. The class of 2017 has graduated, even as I still struggle with a mountain of grading for the classes of ’18, ’19 and ’20.

At Commencement, it was a good year for the newspaper staff. The top two honors given at Commencement—the Mary Frances Warde and Mary Catherine McAuley Awards, given respectively to the top transfer student and the top student who started at MMU—both went to MMU “Times” staff members.

Capria Davis, photo editor of the “Times,” won the Warde prize for a whole host of activities, including helping to found the Black Student Union at MMU. Bianca Kesselring, who wrote an entertainment column for the “Times,” won the McAuley honor. She was active many things, including choir and student ambassadors.

The paper also saw the graduation of Anna Bohr, a key staff member. For the past two years, her title—web editor and then multimedia producer—implied work on the paper’s internet presence, which is accurate, but she was always an important and reliable staff member who made important contributions to the print newspaper. Capria was recognized as this year’s outstanding Communication Program student; Anna was the outstanding journalist of 2017.

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Capria Davis, outstanding Communication graduate of 2017, and Anna Bohr, outstanding graduating student journalist, after Friday’s Honors Convocation.

Graduation this year had many highlights, but in particular two other items stand out to me.

On May 19, at the Honors Convocation, the President’s Award was given to Gabriel Acosta. The other two top student graduation honors are voted on by faculty and staff—but this award comes straight from MMU’s president. And Laurie Hamen got a bit choked up when she spoke of Gabby. His life journey put him squarely, if innocently, in one of the hot political debates of the day. As a young child, Gabby was brought, undocumented, from Mexico to Iowa by his undocumented immigrant parents.

And his family is being separated today by the stiffening of American immigration policy.

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Gabriel Acosta, 2017 President’s Award winner.

Throughout it all, Gabby has been open and honest and willing to share his story to help others understand. Sadly, it’s not been enough to turn back the tide of nationalism that trumps any sense on immigration, but I can’t think of a more deserving graduate of MMU for the honor President Hamen bestowed.

Another poignant moment for me was seeing Professor Ron Feldt lead the procession of faculty at commencement today. He is now an emeritus professor, retiring from the full-time faculty this year.

Others also retired, and will also be missed, but Ron was special to me. He was part of my tenure review group. I valued his feedback. He and I have both served as chairs of the faculty, and I think there’s a bond between those of us who have tried to lead this group of independent souls we call a faculty.

More images from the weekend are in my galleries of the Honors Convocation, Commencement Mass and Commencement Ceremony. MMU’s news release about the event is here.

At graduation today, Bianca gave a good speech, Ron and two other retiring faculty members were applauded and many students walked the stage. Monday will be anticlimactic for me; it will be a day spent tying up thousands of loose ends so the spring semester and school year can officially be called “over.”

But it’s over now for the class of 2017. Good luck, and let us know what shenanigans you get in to.

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When a Student Teaches the Teacher


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Jennifer Perrine speaks April 6 at Mount Mercy.

When writing professor Jennifer Perrine read some of her poetry tonight at Mount Mercy University, one student surprised her a little with some discerning observations—about, for example, how two of Perrine’s poems seem connected, one being a bit of a sequel to the other.

It was a connection the poet had not intended, but recognized when the student asked about it.

“You’re teaching me things,” Perrine said. “I enjoy that.”

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Detail of cover of Perrine’s book, “No Confession, No Mass.”

I enjoyed Perrine teaching us some new things in her poetry reading. I like clever use of language, and I felt many of her poems contained interesting and provocative verbal juxtapositions.

She noted that she when she began writing poetry, it was often about love, and one of her poems was written to a lover who was a tooth grinder. She called that act a “meditation on the erosion of the body” and noted how “we learned to sleep with that hum of friction.”

In years of writing love poems, she noted some themes echo—one being the lover as a magician or con artist. In one poem, she said: “I trade my bones for your balm.” That’s a neat line.

One form of poetry she has explored is the “aubade,” the morning love song. “If we can’t hold back the morning, we will lean into it,” she wrote. Also, because when a lover has to face the separation of another work day there is always some regret: “We invent new languages where every word means ‘night.’”

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Author’s hands holding her book as she reads.

These are just snippets of poems, I know, but I appreciate the way in which the words are layered, sounding and working together to create lyrical, interesting thoughts. I’m a strictly prose writer, so a poet has some challenge in holding my interest, but by that narrow standard, Perrine was a winner.

She also noted how, early in her writing career, she absorbed what she said was the wrong message: That a poet should not write about politics. She read from a poignant poem that spoke of her celebration of her 21st birthday in a gay bar the same day that Matthew Shepard was murdered in Wyoming. Shepard, targeted for the killing because he was a homosexual, was himself only 21 when he died.

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Perrine signs books.

The poem, she noted, was partly fictional, because while she did celebrate her 21st birthday in a gay bar the day he died, she did not learn of the murder until the next day. Still, she captured the kind of shock a crowd can suffer when unexpected bad news spreads. In her imaging of a bar crowd’s reaction to the murder, a TV is turned up and the crowd falls silent: “A chorus of coughs trudges uncomfortably around the room.”

It was an interesting, enlightening night. And at the end of it, when students were asking questions, one asked her what she likes to do when she is not writing—a question that took her a little aback. “That is a good question,” she said. “Nobody ever asks me that.”

She hikes and she gardens. Well, those sound like good things, noted the man whose blog is partly called “garden.”

After the program, I returned to my office to pack some things for the ride home. As I headed outside to unlock my bike, I turned on my bike helmet headlight to see. As I was standing in the shadowy spot where the bike rack is located next to Warde Hall, I heard furtive, slightly nervous laughter.

“We thought you were a ghost,” said Mary Vermillion, English professor who was returning to Warde Hall with Perrine. “We were just talking about the paranormal.”

I’m not a ghost yet. But I would gladly play one in a Perrine poem, if it came to that. And I don’t aspire to always be normal, so I’ll take the “para” as a compliment. Somehow, it seemed like the right note to end the night on, so I hopped on my bike, partly packed with petite fours I had absconded with for my wife and daugher. I pedaled off into the night.

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Music & Previews of Coming Attractions


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Bells ring in Chapel of Mercy–two members of MMU Hand Bell Ensemble.

Tonight was a combination event that had all kinds of interesting ingredients, like a fusion restaurant.

This is “Mercy & Mission Week” at Mount Mercy University, and events this week are meant to remind us of and tie us with our heritage as an institution founded by the Sisters of Mercy. And tonight there was a “Poems, Promises, Music & Immigrant Stories” event in the Chapel of Mercy which was both a Mercy Week event and listed as part of our Fall Faculty Series.

It was an interesting show. Music was provided by the MMU Hand Bell Ensemble—which was nice to hear, although it’s too bad I’ve had to give up my participation in that crew. Miss you ringers, you sounded great!

There was also Jonny Lipford, who plays and teaches the music of various wooden native-style flutes. Several of them were two-in-one or three-in-one instruments—meaning flutes with more than one body—which means he harmonized with himself and sounded like a flute group.

The local choir Ingenzi, made up of Africans from various countries performing in their native languages, was pretty amazing—and harmonizing—too. They had some trouble finding the Chapel of Mercy, and thus ended up being the final act, but it was quite a final act.

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Members of Ingenzi, above and below.

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And Father Tony Adawu, our MMU resident priest, spontaneously became part of the music, singing an African song and showing us a dance that goes with it.

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Fr. Tony and audience dance.

I liked the music, but two speakers really stood out to me. Immigrant stories were shared by Gabriel Hernandez Acosta, a senior who is in his final semester, and Dr. Ayman Amer, our economics professor.

Dr. Amer told several compelling anecdotes—how his neighbors in Cedar Rapids acted instinctively to ensure his family was safe in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, how a wealthy business person in New York City—which he always had seen as the least friendly place on Earth—helped him the first day he was in the U.S., and also of his seeing snow for the first time that day.

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Dr. Ayman Amer shares a few stories of coming to America from Egypt.

Snow! That story touched me personally. Dr. Amer described it as looking magical that first day in January in New York City. His story took me back to when I was a boy and our family moved from California to Iowa. Snow, if you had only seen it on TV, was indeed a magical and strange thing to actually see falling from the sky for the first time. (We moved in August, so it was a few months before I saw snow—but it still made quite an impression on me.)

Anyway, I think the whole night was most highlighted by Gabriel Hernandez Acosta, who told of his illegal journey to the U.S. as a 6-year-old. His story was well-told. It went well with the art he displayed, and both he and Dr. Amer are scheduled to speak again later as part of our fall series.

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Gabriel Hernandez Acosta–speaker and also events staff for tonight’s presentation.

Hernandez Acosta will be a key speaker at the Oct. 15 “Our Immigrant Stories: Coming to Cedar Rapids and Mount Mercy,” a special community day that will feature multiple presentations. He will be a highlight of one of the highlights of our whole series, and hearing him tonight, he’s fully capable of pulling that off.

image-of-logo-colorDr. Amer will speak Nov. 15 on “The Dollars and Sense of It: What Immigration Does to our Economy.” He will also, as part of that presentation, share part of his personal story. And by the preview tonight, he has quite a few personal anecdotes to share.

About 70 people attended the concert tonight—a good turnout. I hope you were there—but if not, come to hear two of tonight’s speakers on Oct. 15 and Nov. 15. And check out all of the other events in our Fall Faculty Series.

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Thinking of blood lines and blood line thinking


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Deb Brydon, associate professor of criminal justice at Mount Mercy University, spoke about U.S. policy towards Native Americans on Sept. 13 in Flaherty Community Room.

It’s an odd issue that tarnishes American history and still haunts our political debate today.

What kind of people are people? What kinds of humans are full humans, and who has more rights than others?

I recognize the questions themselves, if you’re an enlightened person, are offensive. The answer, frankly, is that all people are people and no one “type” is more human than another.

And yet, sometimes, we quibble. Muslims don’t belong here. Those Irish are dangerous Papists who will destroy society. America is for “Americans,” whoever those are. Due process of law protects citizens but not “aliens.” A person of color “has no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

That last quote, by the way, you may recognize from the infamous U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott case. The same nation that proudly proclaimed that man has “inalienable rights” has not always been willing to acknowledge the humanity or human rights of all men—or women.

So the odd issue is the way we classify people by race or class or gender into categories that make them more or less human. It’s a deep instinct, but one we all should struggle against.

Anyway, I’m thinking such thoughts prompted by a rather emotional presentation that I attended tonight. I don’t mean “emotional” in the sense of people wailing or rending garments or shedding tears—everybody seemed rather civil and calm—but I mean touching on deep emotions, cultural undercurrents that need to be recognized and talked about.

image-of-logo-colorDeb Brydon, an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice who is also an attorney, gave a presentation called “The First Americans: U.S. Policy in ‘Indian Country’” at Mount Mercy University. It was the second in our 2016 Fall Faculty Series, which is called “Building Walls, Building Bridge: The U.S. as an Immigrant Nation.”

I coordinate that series, and I recall being pretty excited when Brydon proposed her topic as we were planning the series. In calling the U.S. an “immigrant nation,” it sounds as if MMU is excluding Native Americans. But the reality is that very few of the indigenous peoples who populated what is now the United States live in their ancestral homeland.

They were killed off or moved by the peoples who took over this continent, and therefore became unwilling migrants. In that sense, they “immigrated” too, without ever leaving the U.S.

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Brydon makes a point during her forum.

I didn’t think it was a stretch to include a presentation on Native Americans in an immigration series, and I’m even more grateful now that we did so. It proved to be a fascinating and powerful presentation. Brydon spoke of how the federal government became the entity that had all responsibility for Native American relations—because the Supreme Court recognized native tribes as semi-sovereign entities and in the Unites States, legal national sovereignty is strictly a federal function.

And “function” seems like an odd word to use for the changing, strangely evolving, often contradictory threads that ran through and run through the way our country treats its first inhabitants.

Consider the pipeline protests in North Dakota, and how one branch of the federal government is telling another branch of the federal government that it didn’t do enough to consult with the native tribes near whose lands that new oil pipeline would pass.

Anyway, I’m no expert in that particular controversy—I’m not anything of an expert in most of the topics that were raised tonight. But, that’s one advantage of having a series like this one at MMU—it gives us in the Mount Mercy and Cedar Rapids community a chance to hear from those who do have special insight into a key issue and a chance to grow and learn.

As Brydon pointed out, before there was an immigrant nation, “people were here.”

There were many parts of the evening that I found moving:

  • Brydon is connected through a grandparent to the Mohegan Tribe, and recounted how one of the movies called “The Last of the Mohicans” premiered with a New York gala in the 1930s. An elderly leader of the tribe was invited to attend, and reporters asked him: “How do you like our city?” He replied: “How do you like our country?”
  • The convoluted story of how Native Americans were first forced onto reservations, then forced to parcel out their lands, then lost their lands in tax disputes creating a “checkerboard” of conflicting ownership and jurisdictional boundaries was fascinating, but fascinating partly in the way World War II is fascinating. At one level, it’s a train wreck you can’t pull your eyes away from—an unfolding, confounding, infuriating narrative. What a tangled web—and yet the one constant is that, in the long run, it seems the dominant culture finds creative new way to steal from the displaced culture.
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    Genevieve Bern speaks.

    A member of an Alaskan tribe attended and gave some interesting thoughts after Brydon’s presentation. The woman, Genevieve Bern, noted, for example, that although much of the 90 percent die off of natives peoples caused by European diseases may have been unintentional, it still represents a genocidal experience form the point of view of natives.

  • Race and ethnicity and racial issues are an important subtext to the larger immigration saga MMU is taking on. Bern’s remarks helped highlight that, and are another reason I am glad she came. My one regret in our whole series is that we don’t have a more examples of various racial or ethnic perspectives, such as more discussion of the forced immigration of African Americans. Then again, I’m still hoping to get more speakers for our Oct. 15 “Our Immigration Stories” day.

One legal twist in American policy Brydon pointed out was the way in which Native Americans became associated with gambling and casinos, partly due to an enabling law passed in the 1980s. Dr. Mohammad Chaichian, professor of sociology, asked if the results had been positive for native tribes.

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Dr. Mohammad Chaichian poses a question. He speaks Sept. 29 about border walls.

In an economic sense, overall, I would suspect so—but as Brydon pointed out, the track record is very mixed and differs a lot depending on who controls the casinos  “There are a lot of different experiences,” Brydon says. That sounded like a good analogy for the whole presentation, in a way.

It was a fascinating evening, and left me hungry to learn more. I don’t think you can state any higher praise for such a faculty event. So thank you, Bed Brydon. Thank you, too, Genevieve Bern and all the others who shared the evening.

As coordinator of the Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy, my primary reaction to tonight is gratitude. Thank you, MMU faculty, for putting on this large discussion. It was the second of many events this fall, and about 80 people attended—again, an excellent turnout for this kind of event.

Next? Dr. Dennis Dew, who wrote an excellent column for the Gazette related to his topic, speaks Thursday night on “Fear of an Immigrant Nation: Prejudice, Stereotyping & Discrimination.”

I hope to see you there. And if you have a personal story on immigration to tell, please do contact me. Oct. 15, right? Mark it down. It is intended as a day that will provide many opportunities to share.

See the MMU web site for more details.

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A Fond Farewell to Summer 2016


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Aug. 17, 2016–morning damp on a redbud leaf from rain the night before.

The opening day retreat took place today at Mount Mercy University today, so summer is officially over. Students will be moving in this weekend, and the pace of academic life will take over my life.

It was a good summer, and it was a busy summer. It was the summer of a grandson. This summer, my wife and I watched a baby grandson who just turned 8 months old.

My wife did more of the baby care than I did, but there was often at least one a day a week when I was the primary grandson caregiver, and it was both exhilarating—a baby of that age is often quite charming—and tiring. Parenthood, I’ve decided, is for the young.

So it wasn’t as lazy a summer as some past ones have been, nor as lazy as some future ones will be, I hope. That’s OK. A baby is only young once, and it was nice to get to spend time with him. We also had several visits from other grandchildren, a few adventures and a couple of family reunions, but not much in the way of travel this summer. That’s as was planned, however. And I do expect that we will travel more in future summers. We have a son who now lives in San Francisco, and it would be a shame not to drop in on the West Coast next off season.

Anyway, it has been a warm, wet summer in our corner of Iowa, and on Wednesday, the day before school officially began, I shot some photos both of the damp post-rain morning and of the deck that will soon be gone.

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Rose of Sharon, above, by deck. Bee, below, drinks moisture from a damp pillow on a bench on the deck.

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We’ve put a down payment on a three-season room, which I hope means we’ll be spending even more time in the semi outdoors in future, lazier, summers. In a few weeks a crew will tear down our deck in prep to build the new room.

It’s a pretty positive change, I think. We can watch spring rains while sipping our morning coffee. I sometimes ate breakfast or other meals on the deck, and that was fine, but sometimes a buggy experience. I hope the three-season room is a bit less insect rich. The deck was fine, and I will miss it, but sometimes something good gives way to make room (no pun intended) for something better.

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Wind chime, above, hanging on eave over deck. We have several and a couple of hummingbird feeders–I bet next summer they will hang outside the windows of our three-season room. On rail of stairs, below, some art by out oldest daughter, who signed the name of a different daughter. I may have to try to save that piece of wood.

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I’m not sure how to describe my mood as the school year starts. At the moment, I haven’t done all that well getting all the stuff ready that I need to, but I also just don’t seem too worried about it. The first class meets on Wednesday of next week, and I hope I’ve prepped a bit more before then.

Well, goodbye summer 2016. I’ll miss you and the playtime I had with a charming young boy. I’m sure I’ll get to play with him and other grandchildren in future summers, too—but this season was unique. And I’m a little sad to see it go and to say goodbye to both it and the deck, but I’m pretty excited to meet new students, see old ones and have another school year begin.

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View of the back deck. There will be a smaller deck off o the new room, so we will still have an outside spot for some of the plants.

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Fat Tuesday: Trump Triumphs on Ash Eve


What an odd election year we are having. Will we wake up and find we’ve been down the rabbit hole?

I had a feast Tuesday night—the traditional supper of pancakes (which my wife bought blueberries for even though she does not like blueberry pancakes—she made herself a couple of plain ones before the berries were buried in batter), combined with sausage and bacon. I told my wife the berries were edible Mardi Gras beads, but she informed me that because we only had to buy them at HyVee, it’s not the same thing at all.

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Celebrate indeed. Fat Tuesday at the Sheller household–pancakes, sausage and bacon. And blueberry Mardi Gras beads in the pancakes A feast fit for me.

Anyway, while I was scarfing down griddle goodness, the voters of New Hampshire were braving the winter weather to make more weird what has already been the year of the odd campaign.

Clinton was the choice of 95,252 voters, 38 percent of Democrats who voted in New Hampshire. She was crushed, defeated, rejected—she felt the Bern, baby.

The Donald was the choice of 100,400 clinically insane voters from the nut-wing of the Grand Old clown car party, totaling 35.3 percent of the GOP electorate. His 35.3 percent showing was huge, baby, huge. It was a humongous victory, taller than the tallest New Hampshire hill, vaster than the New England snow pack, higher than the Empire State building, more ginormous than Trump’s ginormous ego. (Strike that. Trump has more ego than the universe has dark matter, so that last statement is a physical impossibility, but only if you believe in science, which I don’t think The Donald does). Mr. Mop Top didn’t just win—he Trump Triumphed, obliterating the rebuff delivered by Iowans not that long ago.

Score one for Iowans.

Anyway, I know Hillary had only one primary opponent—I do miss you, Martin—and my boy Bernie Sanders did take the primary in a landslide win—but still. Bernie is partially a hometown figure in New Hampshire, a senator from nearby Vermont, so his win there isn’t exactly a shocking upset. And Clinton was more popular among Democrats than Trump was among Republicans. Trump seems to have a passionate base of less than 20 percent of the electorate overall—maybe that will change, because in politics, especially Alice in Wonderland 2016 politics, you can’t tell what will happen next—but he’s a fringe candidate. A vote of 35.3 percent made him the choice of more Republican voters than anybody else, but 65.7 percent of New Hampshire Republicans wanted someone else. To me, Trump’s triumph seems rather tawdry.

Well, the pancakes were good. Later that night, I drank my last beer—yup, besides going to the gym each day (I managed on Ash Wednesday so the resolution didn’t fall apart on day one), I have given up beer for Lent.

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Bob, at right, speaks during reception at MMU Campus Ministry.

And on Mardi Gras I got to see some nice art work by Bob Naujoks at a Mount Mercy Campus Ministry reception. It was great to see Bob again, and his art is fun to see, too.

So I had a pretty good Mardi Gras, even if I’m not sure that New Hampshire did.

I suppose Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie would have scripted the day differently. But then again, they didn’t get to have those yummy pancakes.

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MMU Times photographer covering opening of Bob Naujoks art displa y in Campus Ministry lounge.

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The Vietnam Series Comes to a Fine Conclusion


Event Program

Was seven students reading poems and prose too many? Actually, eight had agreed to read, but one was unable to attend. In fact, the number of readers worked out well. We had the final event of the Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy tonight, and with 10 poems, four songs, recognition of speakers, a video look back at the series—well, the program timed out at just about an hour, which was my target.

I don’t know for sure what it was like to watch—I hope the audience didn’t get too antsy, but those who spoke to me after the program were complimentary, so I think it worked out.

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Andrews Christian Academy Choir warms up before singing during MMU’s Fall Faculty Series final event, a night of music, poetry and prose.

I’m glad we had a school choir visit. After several sometimes grim poems written by Vietnam vets, it was nice to hear “I’ve Got Peace Like a River.”

“Amazing Grace” was a pretty amazing opening number, played on bells and a bagpipe. And the closing song, Dona Nobis Pacem (Give Us Peace) was the perfect touch.

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Bagpiper Craig Hazelbaker. Amazing Grace was amazing.

The audience didn’t get to see the sausage being made. Alison Brown stepped in, and all of the poems were read. Earlier this week, I had created a draft video retrospective, but then asked a more video savvy student to take a stab at polishing the project. She was enthusiastic and threw herself into it.

Sadly, today, her computer crashed, and we could not get her embellished video to play. We had to use the raw one that I had sent her as a starting point. It’s OK and served its purpose—and, again, the audience was unaware of the backstage crisis—but I do wish I had been able to use her finished product.

We also had one minor glitch during the program. Besides the video, I had prepared three slide shows to go with three of the readings. I checked them all during our warm up, but the computer went to sleep and refused to quickly wake up during the performance, so the first reading was underway before the images started appearing.

Oh well, it still worked out. The library shot video again, and I do hope they post this one to YouTube. I would like to see it.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the future of the Fall Faculty Series at MMU will be—but I’m pretty sure there is a future. Last year, we attracted much bigger crowds than expected to the forums when the first Fall Faculty Series centered on the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. This year, with Vietnam, it turned out so many still are processing that experience from four decades ago that the series resonated even more, and crowds were even larger.

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Mark Mettler, Alison Brown and Miranda Tumlity were three of seven Mount Mercy students who read at the final event of the MMU fall series. MMU Times photo by Dori Whitlock.

I think we had about 60 people at this final event .No event was attended by less than 30. Thousands came to visit the Moving Wall, and a veteran’s forum held during the wall’s visit packed the Flaherty Community Room with a crowd well over 100. One of our authors last week drew more than 200 to the Chapel of Mercy.

And even if the crowd at this final event was not huge, well, 60 is a pretty decent gathering at an MMU event.

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Carolyn Sternowski, Hand Bell Ensemble director, accompanies Andrews Christian Choir.

I wrote a thank you message for the program (don’t get me started on the program—those little publication are indeed a severe pain where the sun don’t shine). I put a link to the program at the top of this post, and the thank-you is the final panel of the program. Anyway, what did I do when the series was over? I hopped on my bike, rode home, found and fixed a frozen pizza and washed it down with a beer. Now, my tummy is full, my ears still hear that bagpipe and my heart is full of joy. There is a bit of a letdown when a big thing in life comes to its inevitable close—but I feel my life is much enriched by the many who came and participated in this second Fall Faculty Series. Thanks, it was grand.

So, MMU. About next year ….

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