Community Day 2012

By Dr. Drew Bogner, President

Welcome back!  I hope everyone had a great summer, and I hope you were all able to relax and visit some interesting places.

About a week and a half ago I returned from a ten-day visit to Hawaii.  How many of you have been to Hawaii?

Hawaii is the most isolated place on the planet, in that it is farther from any other inhabited place. Each of the Hawaiian Islands was built from volcanic eruptions that spewed from the ocean floor.  These volcanic eruptions pushed upwards 18,000 feet from the floor of the sea until the islands emerged from the ocean and the lava continued to build each island higher and higher, sending them to heights of 6,000, 8,000, 10,000 or 14,000 feet high.  Most of the volcanoes are extinct now, a few are dormant and a few are still active.

On my last day in Hawaii we drove up Mt Haleakala on the island of Maui, driving up from sea level 10,000 feet to the summit of the dormant volcano to witness the sunset. As we made our way up the mountain I was thinking about a unique phenomenon that I had read about in a guidebook – something that occurs in only a few places on the planet and only if the conditions are just right – when the caldera is filled with clouds and the sun is behind you, low on the horizon. 

The phenomenon is called the Specter of Brocken.  The Hawaiians refer to it as akaku anuenue. I hadn’t really expected to see it but we parked in the overlook parking lot anyway and hiked the 1/8th mile to the caldera overlook.  When I rounded the corner I saw it: my shadow projected onto the cloud with a rainbow halo around it.  I’m sure you’ve seen your shadow before, but probably not reflected in a cloud or with a rainbow halo around it. 

But the really unique aspect of the phenomenon was that I could see my own shadow but not that of my wife, Karen. She could see her own shadow but not mine.  No matter how close we were to each other, we could only see our own shadow.

The native Hawaiian believed that what you were seeing in this reflection was your own soul.  And indeed it felt that way, murky but responsive, luminescent and intensely personal. 

Now, why I am telling you this particular story?  Because it has something, in fact it has everything, to do with why our students are here and what they should do while they are at Molloy.  Fundamentally and most importantly, college is about finding your own soul.

I know if I asked each of the students why they came to Molloy, I would hear things like I came to
Molloy College:
to get an education,
to start a career,
to be able to get a good job,
to meet new friends,
to learn some new things, and
to broaden my outlook about life.

As I told the freshmen at orientation, all of these are good reasons and important reasons, but college is a special place at a special time in your life, like the caldera at sunset.  It is a unique time when you are given the opportunity to find and make yourself.  It is time when all the conditions are aligned to help you find your soul. 

Just as I reminded the students of this quintessential reality about college, I think it is important to remind ourselves that this is what we are most fundamentally about – helping the students to find their own souls, to dream and become. 

When we articulate what we do for our students and what the purposes are behind our programs and services, we often end up in the same place as our students.  We say that college is about:
teaching and learning,
exploring new ideas,
learning a profession,
acquiring skills,
preparing for a career, and
preparing for the real world.

 But is so much more than that.

If you look at our mission statement you can clearly see it in the four pillars.  Our education, the education in the Dominican charism, is about study, but also about service, community, and spirituality. We are a transformative entity and our mission is to transform the lives of our students and through them to transform the communities in which we live.

The theme of this year is “civic engagement”and I believe that this pedagogy, that this challenge to our students to be civically engaged, truly helps them to find their own souls.  We, as educators, know that transformative education comes about from reflection on things of significance, from having the time and the predilection to turn inside ourselves and internalize what we encounter.  Our challenge then is to do the practical and the significant.

When I was on Mount Haleakala and I saw my own luminescent shadow, I reflected not only on the special nature of this atmospheric phenomenon but also on the deep spirituality that accompanied this experience.  I did in some way believe that I saw into my own soul and it, that experience, left me questioning what I, what we, were really meant to do.

We want our students, each student, to strive for the summit, to become the person each can be, to find their purpose, to find their soul. That is why we are here, to remind them of this.

As the Hawaiian proverb states: Kulia  I  ka  nu’ u.

Strive for the summit, strive for excellence, look to the soul.

Have a great year!



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