A Long Farewell

A moment took me by surprise this afternoon, although I should have expected it. I am no longer the Director of SFU’s Semester in Dialogue. After 12 years, it was time to pass the torch.

I’ve known this was coming for years, so my departure was not unexpected. Still, today feels quite different from yesterday. It’s always fascinating to see what the sink-in moment will be indicating that life has changed. Mine was saying goodbye for the afternoon to our Secretary Linda Bannister, and suddenly realizing that I wasn’t her supervisor any longer.

I’m not retiring, or even leaving; I have a year-long administrative leave coming up during which I expect to be into work most days, doing some writing and community-based projects I’ve been wanting to get to. I’ll be back teaching in some capacity when my leave is over.

Founding, directing and teaching in the Semester in Dialogue over the last 12 years has easily been the most affecting experience of my working life. The opportunity to mentor, to get to know hundreds of extraordinary students and provide a platform through which they could envision their own futures, has been beyond priceless.

The Semester has introduced me to the cornucopia of characters that make our region thrive, as we’ve had well over 500 community members in as dialogue guests. Urban planners and oil company CEO’s, government officials and anti-poverty activists, First Nations leaders and poets, they and so many others have graced our dialogue table. Their generosity with their time and willingness to interact has motivated our students to do more in the world than they thought they could, and provided role models for how to construct and effective and satisfying life.

I often joke that the Semester in Dialogue might be renamed “Making the World a Better Place,” as we admonish our students to treat their semester as an opportunity to give back to the community and make some positive change happen to the world outside their education.

There’s a Hebrew phrase “Tikkun Olam,” roughly translated as healing or repairing the world, and it’s that spirit that has guided me these many years in the Semester. I have no illusions that I can take much credit for world-healing, but I do know that our students can. The world is indeed better off with the projects, accomplishments and contributions our students have made through their Semester in Dialogue work.

My greatest satisfaction has been through the hundreds of students who found their voice and became more fully themselves through the Semester in Dialogue, who began to think more expansively about how much they could do, grew their motivation to have a positive impact on the world around them and developed skills to be effective agents for change.

I’m not really leaving, but still: all of you involved in the Semester have meant the world to me, and I can’t tell you enough how grateful I am to those many of you who have shared the journey.