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State of the U

by President Ronald S. Rochon

State of the U - Legacy

As a boy, I watched with raptured fascination as my father blew cigarette smoke rings, piercing them with long, thin smoke arrows. His two-pack-a-day habit was a perpetual presence in my impressionable life, and I often fetched his pack for him. Each ethereal ring he blew drifted into my psyche, deepening my quiet desire to be like him. When I discovered candy cigarettes, replete with red tips to signify a lit fire, I emulated my father, “puffing” my own imaginary rings.

For him, smoking was solitary. But for me, it was laying the foundation of a legacy, one he unwittingly delivered with each smoky arrow. 

Legacy is a weighty word. It connotes authority, tradition, birthright and privilege. As such, we often equate it to the actions and behaviors of revered societal leaders—such as Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr.—or attach it to generational attendance at exalted, expensive educational institutions. But I define it as something more ubiquitous: it is anything that transforms the life of another. No matter the intent or lack of. 

USI has been purposefully transforming lives for 56 years. Beyond our faculty’s academic craft, we impress upon our students—in large and small ways—life lessons of how to react, interact, and respond to and treat people from all walks of life. We want our students to be educated citizens, to assess and weigh ideas, and be fully informed before embracing them, as opposed to being unquestioning followers.

To march forward in life toward our destinies with passion and purpose, let us first learn to explore and examine our beliefs and attitudes. Let us look in a mirror and comprehend our whole selves. Let us have the mental wherewithal to deconstruct the complex attitudes, born from experiences, that do not serve us or our societies well.

The visionary women and men who pushed to found USI did so because they understood the life-changing legacies that access to an affordable college education would bring to the region. Education leads to expanded minds through critical thought and examination, enhanced perspectives through new avenues of discourse, engaged responsibility of a shared community as well as skilled workforces receiving higher wages. It bridges the gap between poverty and privilege. This is the legacy of USI.

Like I was by my father’s smoke rings, we are surrounded by attitudes and habits capable of drifting silently into our psyche, of affecting our thinking, our perceptions, our lives, either negatively or positively. When we are not being intentional in our actions and words, they can have unintentional consequences on others. It was never my father’s aim that I smoke. Thankfully, he quit, one day putting down his cigarettes and never picking them up again. No longer seeing him smoke, a different legacy formed, and I never became a smoker.

As children, we are unaware of how others’ actions, attitudes and values influence and shape us. But as adults, we owe it to ourselves to vigilantly scrutinize what we have absorbed, to decode the impact it has on our well-being and that of others, before we embrace or banish them. For legacies to be healthy, let us first think about what we are imparting. Let us be intentional and deliberate.

We all have the power and authority to create a legacy. Let us do so responsibly and thoughtfully when igniting little fires in future generations through our words and actions.

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