As I talked to a group of students in the breezeway between UC East and West one day, I saw Gretchen out of the corner of my eye, struggling as she made her way across campus. I’d seen her before, navigating crowded sidewalks and hallways as she piloted from place to place, the confident tapping of her probing cane resonating purpose and pride. But this time something was different. Something was off. Her steering skills seemed uncertain. Her terra firma, somehow now foreign, compelled me to go to her.
Introducing myself, I asked if I could perhaps escort her to wherever she was headed. She cocked her head and graciously agreed, teasingly commenting, “President? Well sir, get to escorting.” I liked her immediately; she got me. As we walked and chatted, our relationship sprouted, and I asked her, “You seemed to be struggling today, going a very different route than you normally take. Is there any particular reason why”?
“Yes,” she said. “Thank you for asking. Someone moved the flower pots.”
Someone moved the flower pots.
It hadn’t been malicious, and no one else likely noticed, but they were her landmarks. Their displacement disrupted her world, increasing her vulnerability in a place she should have felt safe and supported.
Gretchen is one of us, part of the USI family, and while she may not experience the world through sight, her vulnerability, confusion and uncertainty is something we all share—as well as some sightlessness or shortsightedness. The only difference being for some of us our blindness is self-created and not a physical affliction. When we fail to see the needs of those around us—their social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs—when we fail to allow for differences, when we fail to accept those differences, we fail ourselves and each other.
I love this University. I love our students. It is our mission and duty to serve and uplift them through example, as we must do for each other. We must pledge to embrace each other’s uniqueness, open our eyes and minds, teach our students, ourselves and our communities that diversity is our liberator—not our annihilator.
This is born out of relationships—the cornerstones of USI. I strive to be intentional in developing them with our students—our reason for being here—as well as with faculty, staff, community members and elected officials, whom we partner with to advance the institution. Without these relationships, there is no future. Just as there is no future in a world of distrust and discord.
When the flower pots were rearranged, Gretchen’s confidence in the world cracked just a little, sending her adrift in a place she should have felt secure. By offering my hand, a relationship rooted and with it a trust deepened.
While we are all susceptible to uncertainty, we should not be the cause of it for others. Make today the day you help rather than hinder someone. Be a flower pot.