Pushing the Envelope at Christmas

by Dr. Gerry Turcotte, President, St. Mary’s University

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” ~Luke 2: 14~

There is a moving story about a family’s Christmas tradition that tells of a husband’s aversion to receiving presents when so many in the community were in need. The story goes that one fateful Christmas his wife, wishing to honour his views, decided to forego the usual array of ties or scarves and instead hung a small white envelope on the tree. Having observed the poverty of an inner city wrestling team that competed against her son’s wealthier school, she donated a complete set of wrestling uniforms to the opposing team all in her husband’s name. She left the information about this in the small white envelope. Needless to say the husband was overwhelmed by the gesture, which became an annual event. Year after year, and even while the children received their more traditional presents, the family gathered around the father to see what ‘gift’ had been given in his name. Until one year, just before Christmas, the father passed away. Griefstricken, the mother was unable to prepare for the season, but when she came down that Christmas morning she discovered that each of her children had placed a white envelope on the tree, all having donated to an important cause in their father’s name.

Christmas is a time of celebration, but also a time for reflection. It is traditionally a season when individuals and families gather together to praise God, to celebrate with loved ones and to count their blessings. It may seem strange to say this, but it is a time when universities do the same. We remember to thank staff , students and faculty for the camaraderie, hard work, and dedication shown by all. It is an opportunity to count our blessings for the great gifts we have: the privilege to learn in safety and the joy of intellectual exchange and debate.

At St. Mary’s we count many such blessings. We are a dynamic university with degrees that are fully accredited by the Government of Alberta and recognized the world over. We revel in the academic excellence of our programs, a commitment that has witnessed hundreds of students graduating in the Liberal Arts and Sciences. Our new four-year Bachelor of Psychology degree has already become one of our most popular programs. Our Bachelor of Education (Elementary) graduates continue to be widely sought as teachers, and our students continue to find employment far and wide, or to move on to prestigious graduate programs at home and abroad. And we have been blessed with strong supporters who have enabled us to award close to $170,000 in scholarships each year.

But we have not forgotten our mandate to give and be responsive to community needs. We rejoice in the traditional gifts of a fi rst class education; but we are also mindful to provide those small white envelopes that give back to the community: competitive tuition rates to remain inclusive and welcoming to all; volunteering opportunities involving our staff and students; and the championing of socially responsible initiatives such as Humanities 101 that enables severely disadvantaged learners to re-enter the educational system.

The expression “pushing the envelope” is originally derived from aeronautics and mathematics, and it means to move outside our comfort zone, to take what we know and see how we can develop and expand our boundaries to be better, faster and sharper. At this sacred Christmas time it is all the more important to take a moment to reflect on the gifts we have been given, and consider how we can push the envelope socially: to reach out to those less fortunate, to come together as a community of caring citizens, and to hang a small white envelope that reminds us to give back for the gifts we have been given.

It has been an honour and a privilege to write this monthly column and on behalf of the students, faculty, and staff of St. Mary’s University, I extend to you and your family our very best wishes for a Blessed Christmas and a happy new year.