Prompted

Summer 2017

Prompt: What's the best advice — or worst advice — you've either given or received?

When my mom passed away, a good friend said, “Be gentle with yourself.” Especially good while grieving since it is a strange creature that shows up in unexpected ways. I need to heed it far more often. 

In high school, everyone said college would be the best four years of my life. So when I was looking at schools, that’s what I looked for: Where would I have the best four years of my life? And it was such a difficult thing to ask of a school, any school. 

Now, as an admission counselor, I make sure to tell students looking at colleges that they should choose a college that will make them happy and able to be the best version of themselves, because that’s how it becomes the best four years of a person’s life. That’s why Grinnell was for me.

At the time I was stage managing a show for the theatre department and going to talk to Erik [Sanning ’89]. His wife Susan Sanning was in his office, and when I agreed to do something I didn’t have time to do, she commented, “Saying no makes your yeses mean more.” I still have a lot of trouble following this advice, but nonetheless I think of it every now and again when I’m taking on a new project.

As each of my five kids prepared to leave for college, this was the advice/wisdom I offered: “Dance with your friends.”

 

I got some great advice at the start of my career, which is that I’m the one responsible for my professional development (and my career), not my employer. Don’t take development or career for granted: It’s on you to make it happen. 

When my son was born six weeks early, a co-worker told me that all the trials and tribulations we were facing would turn out OK and just “become part of his story.” At the time, I wanted to punch the person through the phone, because I thought he was minimizing the situation and didn’t understand. However, he was right. My little guy is now an amazing 12-year-old because of all the things that are “part of his story,” and I share the idea and what it means to me now, all the time. 

Spring 2017

Prompt: Grinnell students read a great deal for their courses. What has stuck with you from your course reading, and why?

It’s not who you are — it’s where you are that matters,” Theresa Geller, associate professor of English, concluded after a lecture on Robert Stam’s and Ella Shohat’s seminal book, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. Prior to my arrival to Geller’s Film Analysis, Theory, and Criticism course, I had not encountered a book that critically interrogates popular culture to the extent and intensity that Stam and Shohat do with this book. 

From critiquing colonialist discourse to racist politics of casting, this book helped decolonize my mind, influence my activism, and bridge the divide between theory and practice. Now, every time I engage with activism outside of the classroom, I ask myself: “Am I helping dismantle the unjust power relations? Is this empowering the disempowered? Am I transforming the subordinating institutions and discourses?

Reading Plato’s Republic during my freshman tutorial had a profound impact on my view of tolerance, governance, and understanding of the human condition — especially when comparing to The Prince. Plus, it seems to pop up all the time: as an essay topic on my National Board certification, in discussions with colleagues, and as a reference in all things political. 

The opportunity to read and engage in vigorous, respectful debate is of paramount importance in learning to coexist.

There is also something inherently satisfying about being well-read; maybe a bit smug and superior, but still …

In Professor Homer Norton’s British History course (1950–51), I learned the importance of reading original sources before making a judgment on historic and current issues. Today we can more easily find those original sources on the Internet, but I learned how to do basic research in the Grinnell library. 

I revisited campus as an employee from 2014–16. During my “victory lap,” I had the pleasure of taking Professor Shuchi Kapila’s Introduction to Postcolonial Literature course, and Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh was the most impactful read for me. The first book in a trilogy (which I just finished, having received the third book for Christmas), Sea of Poppies presents perspectives on the British opium trade in China from a varied cast of characters. Readers engage with the effects of western imperialism on characters of different genders, ambitions, religions, social statuses, countries of origin, and cultural mores in a captivating, humorous collision of narratives. The novel was all the more interesting in the hands of Professor Kapila and students of different backgrounds, class years, and majors. I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience this book like I did, but I recommend it anyway.