Twenty one years ago, I was completing my dissertation at Wichita State University with high hopes for the future.  A national add caught my attention in a place called Plattsburgh.  Looking at a map of Plattsburgh, I saw a lake and mountains and noticed it was close to Montreal where I had some relatives.  It was during mid-November those many years ago that I first stepped onto the campus of SUNY Plattsburgh.  When I got to Plattsburgh, it was cold and snowy and clouds obscured any mountains I imagined from looking at the pre-Google Earth map.  I went through what I now know as a typical interview routine with breakfast, formal interviews, a presentation, an individual meeting with graduate students, and a tour of the area (the mountains never were visible).  Everyone was kind and the students were amazing.  I also had a meeting with then Provost, Tom Moran.  He shared the heart and spirit of SUNY Plattsburgh through his warmth and enthusiasm as he spoke about the college.  That conversation was pivotal in my decision to accept a job at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Fast forward to this year, I served on the Lead Committee for the Strategic Plan.  There was a lot of discussion about makes our college special and who we want to be in the future.  Words often seemed limiting when trying to capture the supportive environment of our college, but there are many examples that convey the heart and spirit of SUNY Plattsburgh.  Just over the past week, I can think of many events that displayed the essence of what makes our college special.  The SUNY Plattsburgh Experience is found at the heart of who we are as a caring community.  I experienced our caring community most deeply last week when I attended a standing-room-only dedication of the Doug and Evelyne Skopp Holocaust Memorial Gallery.  Evelyne was honored for more than 20 years of service in the registrar’s office, a place she continues to volunteer one day each week since she retired. She embodies our commitment to service.  Doug was honored too and spoke in a prayerful tone from a depth of humility that intimately embraced the love of his family, his students, and his colleagues.  Regarding his students, he said he learned more from them than he could have ever hoped to teach them.

Doug and Evelyne Skopp Holocaust
Memorial Gallery Dedication

Dr. Moran spoke at the dedication from the place in his heart I was introduced to many years ago.  He referenced Doug’s research of the Holocaust and culmination of his work in a historical novel, Shadows Walking.  He said, “For Doug the foundational insight is that, in an otherwise dark universe, rescuing our common humanity is the only way to light a path to a decent future. This requires that we imagine others’ lives, with empathy, and as they experience their lives. We must see in them our own qualities. In our dreams and despair, in our capacity for love and to cause pain, we human beings are more alike than we often want to acknowledge.”  This “common humanity” where empathy is found is a common path of SUNY Plattsburgh’s heart and spirit.

There were other examples, among many, of SUNY Plattsburgh’s heart and spirit from the past week.  There was a professor who brought a student to my office seeking help to find resources for the student to attend a conference; I was pleased by the professor’s student-centered perspective.  There were flag-lowering ceremonies by our ROTC Cadets in honor of one of our students, Dain Venne, who was killed in Afghanistan last week.  There was a gathering of people from diverse sectors of the college for a meeting dedicated to finding ways to enhance the sense of community at our college.  I attended a diversity enlightenment session where students were highly engaged.  Finally, I attended an Open House on campus with my 17-year-old son.  As I sat in the audience as a parent, I felt the heart and spirit of SUNY Plattsburgh in presentations by staff and students.  The physics professor in the academic breakout session said, “Our students become part of our family.”  At the academic fair in the ballrooms, the heart and spirit of SUNY Plattsburgh was felt when I observed how my son was treated through the sincere and caring interactions of faculty and staff.

Before I came to SUNY Plattsburgh, a professor in a counseling course I took gave an assignment to write our epitaphs.  I wrote, “He made a difference.”  When asked, the professor said his was, “He cared.”  I have reflected many times on the wisdom of his prioritized choice.  Now, I can say I am grateful to be in a place where I can care and make a difference.

My original plan was to be at SUNY Plattsburgh for three years.  What kept me here was and is a caring community that nurtures personal development of its employees and students.  We are the heart and spirit of SUNY Plattsburgh – a community that must be nourished and cherished.  For me, it is the depth of this heart and sprit, along with our commitment to service, that make SUNY Plattsburgh special.  I am grateful for the foundational service of many caring individuals over the years who have nurtured the heart and spirit of SUNY Plattsburgh’s community.

Take Action:  What is one thing you can do today to build on the foundation of SUNY Plattsburgh’s heart and spirit?