(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following remarks were delivered by William Montgomery ’92, dean of faculty, as a thank you message at the final faculty meeting of the 2020-21 academic year.)
Good morning, everyone. My name is William Montgomery, and I serve as the dean of faculty. Before we get into today’s agenda items, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you.
Under normal circumstances, it is a challenging task to serve roughly 1,000 students and their families over the course of 177 school days, but doing so in a year like this past year, well… holy cow. You may recall the story that Herb Barks ’51 used to tell about having just retired and finished his time at Hammond. As he was driving up to his mountain home to enjoy his first day of retirement, he received a call from his oncologist who told him, “Herb, I’m so sorry to tell you this, but it’s cancer.” A few days later, Herb’s former student Randy Weinberg ’70, who had become his mentor as Kittisaro, came to visit him and discuss the diagnosis. As Herb tells it, Kittisaro’s first words to him were, “Herb, your teacher has arrived.” Kittisaro, of course, wasn’t referring to himself. He meant the cancer. Well, to me that’s a lot like this last year. Fourteen months ago, our teacher arrived. So, as I’ve been finishing up my yearly check-ins with teachers these past few weeks, one of the questions I’ve been asking is if this year has taught you to see something old in a new light, if this year has shown you a value in something that you’d overlooked before.
For me, this year has highlighted the incredible power of two things. The first is the power of simply being together, like this, in a room, at the same time. I hadn’t thought much about the fact that I could stand here reading you the phone book (I promise I won’t), but there would still be something of value in being here for it: it’s the value and power of community because community comes through shared experience. In that way, this year has also helped me to see magnanimitas in a new light. I had always thought that “greatness of spirit” was a personal reminder to me as an individual to have a greatness to my spirit. This year, though, I’ve come to learn that at Baylor our animas — spirit or soul — is magna (great) because it is not singular. We say, “We are Baylor,” and that means that our animas is collective. It is magna because we are together, because we are a community. It is great not because of personal volume but because of collective number. I really hate to have stumbled into a reference to a 90s indie band, here, but I’ll power on nonetheless – at Baylor we have a collective soul. That may be a horrible pun, but at its heart, it’s an amazing thing.
It has been stunning to me to see all the little ways in which we have not gone gently into that good night, to see how we have fought as a team not only to quell the spread of the disease but to preserve our sense of community while doing so.
To me, then, the most pernicious effect of this disease we call COVID-19 is that it uses togetherness as a vector. And so, it has been stunning to me to see all the little ways in which we have not gone gently into that good night, to see how we have fought as a team not only to quell the spread of the disease but to preserve our sense of community while doing so. You may not think we have, but I’m here to say that we did. It was in little ways, yes – like spraying a desk or holding a door or pulling up an extra Adirondack chair on the quad — so little ways, yes, but there were millions of them, every day, and that’s not nothing. I have no doubt that there have been times this year that have felt hopeless, but I’m here to tell you that watching you — watching us — has given me hope. So, I’ll say again now what I’ve said before, but it has new meaning for me this year: this place is what it is because of who it is, and that who is us. I cannot thank you enough for making us a great community.
Now as you may recall, this faculty meeting is my favorite faculty meeting because we get to spend it celebrating the community, and this year that’s more critical than ever. So, it is great to see you all, and it is greatness to see you all. We are magnanimitas. Thank you for all that you’ve done to see us through this year, and thank you for all you’ve done to keep our community healthy.