Rekindling Life Itself

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

“If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well.” ~Romans 12:7~

On the 4th of September St. Mary’s University  hosted what was our most widely attended orientation in our 26-year history. I don’t know how many of you remember your first day: either of school, of university or indeed the  first day at a new job. The emotions run high, and they are mixed. Will this be a successful day for me? Will I be the only one who doesn’t know other people? Will anyone speak to me? It is human nature to experience concern and excitement—often in equal measure—in such circumstances.

The first day of term was no less exciting for me. This orientation day was only my second as President, and in my address to our students I was able to say, in all sincerity, that I understood the butterflies they felt in attending their  first day of school. Like them, I was exhilarated, curious, and even a bit apprehensive about how everything would unfold on the day. I noted that it was entirely normal to feel somewhat disoriented by the newness of the experience. I was also able to reassure them that there were a great many people on hand to help ease them into their new home. This, too, was something I myself had experienced as a newcomer to Calgary and St. Mary’s.

My sense of empathy for the students, however, was even more far-reaching than they might have expected because that morning my own children had their first day—in a new school year—meeting an array of new people. And just as I knew my wife and I vicariously experienced the nerves and excitement of their first day, it was lovely to see a number of parents, and a mass of students, looking equally curious and pleased with their new university.

For me, though, the depth of the connection came most strongly when I watched students interacting with our faculty. Many of us recall the thrill of a teacher who took us to another level, rekindled our imaginations, or who excited us about even the most ordinary topic. It is these educators that our students encounter every day at St. Mary’s. Our students will never become just another face in the crowd. Our professors are renowned for making our students feel like one-in-a-million.

When my kids came home from school their conversation was filled with excitement about their teachers – especially the ones who were funny, made them feel valued, and enthused them for the year ahead.

When people ask me why I brought my family from Australia to Canada, I say that I believed in the mission of St. Mary’s. That I was captivated by the passionate commitment the staff and faculty displayed for this university community, where the focus is on small classes, on quality teaching, and on strong moral foundations underpinning everything we do. I am captivated by this because I know it is the bedrock upon which we build our lives. As John Dewey once said: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”