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Apr 5, 2013

Thanks for showing up

Last night, at the (Ad)mission Accomplished ceremony, I was somewhat overwhelmed by a wave of gratitude to those faculty and staff members who just showed up to support the event. They did not have to be there. They were not on the committee to put it together, and had no speaking parts. They just came to be there at 6:30 on a Thursday night, and to welcome the newly admitted students to our professional community. A different group of people came to one of the three Central Falls lab district meetings. Someone else always comes to commencements. Other people come to other things, but someone is always there.

Communities do not build themselves automatically. They require much effort, planning, tolerance to each other, supporting structures, shared values and many other things. But the essential smallest building block of any real community is showing up. A small symbolic micro-sacrifice does not do much, and yet it accomplishes everything. The act of bringing one’s own body into an event of co-being, of turning one’s face towards others, of sharing the space and time with others – this act is as important as it hard to appreciate.

Some people say they enjoy things like commencements. Yeah, no, this is not exactly an entertainment venue, nor is it hugely varied or exciting. What one learns to enjoy is exactly the ritual of bringing one small symbolic brick and putting it on top of a large common building. That is usually the real motivation, and only people who are able to see the value of small contributions can develop the taste for it.

I am a dean, and have to show up for many of these things by the virtue of my job (not to all of them, and I am sorry if I missed yours!), so I do not deserve much credit. It is people who chose to show up that I want to acknowledge. Thank you for making our community possible.


  1. I love this post. Thank you.

  2. Sasha, I'm going to miss your weekly blogs. The connection I made while reading this blog relates to a non-academic responsibility I have in our community. I'm the President of a homeowners association. We have fourteen very nice homes that share five acres of ocean frontage. It is a challenge to get these very successful and opinionated individuals to work and play well together. At times, it reminds me of my days as a department chair. Lots of bright people who sometimes don't know how to play well together. Getting everyone to move toward common goals can be a challenge. But, as you said, getting people to simply show up is the first step. Once you've got them to do this, you can start on the teambuilding. Sometimes progress isn't as rapid as we would like, but our goal should be to move the ship forward.
    Thanks again for challenging our thinking.

  3. Yes indeed, we will all miss this blog. Sasha, your writing is always inspiring and we will miss it tremendously.