My department surprised me last week: at our student honors ceremony, I got flowers, and four of my colleagues--an associate chair, my two predecessors as chair, and one of the writing program administrators--made amazingly beautiful remarks. "It's better than retiring," one of my colleagues noted later. "When you retire, no one who preceded you is around to speak." It was interesting--and so moving--to hear what people said. My predecessors, Long Serving Chair (who hired me), said that I'm really organized, not simply because I need to be or like to be, but because I can see into the future of situations and I use organization to present that vision to others. Shorter Serving Chair (the chair when I got tenure) also spoke about my organization, and about his memories of the dinner we had during my campus interview. He said he was proud of the work he'd done helping to hire Politica and me back from Big Sky State U, and that while he knew at the time that we were meant to be at current U, he was now forced to see that New U is the right place for us (and Curious Girl). My writing program colleague joked that she'd taught me to say no, and I'd taught her to delegate, so we were a great team. She'll miss me as a colleague in writing but also as a friend, and talked about how special it is that she plays a wonderful role in CG's life (CG calls her Tante Colleague, and she's really like another grandparent to CG). Our associate chair said that I'm a good chair because I work hard, dream big, and support other people in achieving their dreams.
I was pretty speechless--we're having a department party after the semester ends, and I had planned to have something to say there, and I had remarks ready for our last department meeting. But after all that, mostly, all I could say was "you're welcome" in response to that big departmental "thank you."
Politica laughed when I came home and told her about it, laughing mostly about the being organized part. "I am organized! I just use those powers at school more than home," I insisted. The fact that I have somehow lost my parking permit twice this year is no reflection on my organization.
I was touched that so many of my colleagues mentioned CG in their remarks. My department has been a very family-friendly workplace, and I'll miss having colleagues who've been so interested in my kid. I'm going to miss having colleagues who have known me so long. I know I'll build good new relationships at New U, but I'm realizing just how much I'm going to miss, moving from the place where most of my career has taken place.
I feel a little freer now, though. This surprise helped me move into leaving, really leaving. I'm having secret transition meetings with my yet-unannounced successor. Earlier in the semester I was feeling a little badly that a few key projects aren't finished yet, but today I realized that it's OK. It's not the chair's job to finish everything. These projects--like a promotion and tenure criteria document--belong to the department, not to any single chair, and in the life cycle of a department, some things need to move from spring to fall. I'm leaving various projects in various stages, and that's OK. It's a sign of a healthy department (or so I tell myself), that we have ongoing business. The department is going to be fine. And I'm feeling fine now, too, fine to be leaving. It's been hard this year, knowing all year that I was going to be leaving. I had a verbal job offer from New U in June 2007. That's an unusually long time for an academic position to be open and waiting. I've been making plans for the new job while doing the current job. Things are tipping now, slowly, towards the new job. Somehow, the ceremonial surprise helped free me up for that. And that may be the most moving thing of all about it.
Given all the emphasis on my organization, I tidied up my bookshelves and cleared the top of my desk off. I know my colleagues weren't speaking about organization only in terms of office tidiness (in fact, I doubt they were thinking of that at all, given I have had a slew of Politica's things in my office this year and a growing collection of empty boxes making a grand mess). Still, it seemed like my office should reflect the department's description of me. I wonder what my new office style will communicate to my new colleagues. But that's a post for another day...