Category Archives: Retirement

Let Go

A few years ago, I moved into a smaller space, and I had to make judgments about what of my accumulations from over the years to keep and what to let go. Recently, I looked for a favorite fall jacket and when I couldn’t find it, I realized that it didn’t make the cut when I decided what to let go.

During the process of downsizing, I was faced with decisions about clothes, furnishings, and tchotchkes. I also had a huge store of files with articles and papers that I had accumulated over a 50-year career. Two large storage cabinets and five upright file cabinets were full of what I thought were important pieces of information that I might want to reference at some time in the future. At the time that I stored these items, I thought that they were too important to let go.

The files were alphabetized, from the first file cabinet on the left to the fifth cabinet on the far right. When I would pull out the top drawer of the first file cabinet, the first quarter of the drawer held folders that were all labelled affirmative action. The folders held articles that I had written about affirmative action starting in graduate school, as well as many articles written by others that I collected over the years.

Recently, when I heard news about arguments on affirmative action at the Supreme Court, I was prompted to go to my new downsized file cabinets to review some of the papers and articles on affirmative action.

I was stunned to find that I had let go of every single folder labelled affirmative action! In fact, it was a surprise to me that in the top drawer of my new alphabetized first file cabinet there were no folders containing topics beginning with A, B, or C. With the first folders now beginning with the letter “D,” I found “diversity” folders in the place “affirmative action” folders had once been.

This single word—diversity—and its many connotations has been the single thread and lifeline to maintain the spirit of affirmative action, particularly, in selective colleges and universities. In making the argument for the value of diversity for all students, colleges and universities had to let go of race as a prominent qualification in admissions considerations.

With the anticipated decision of the Supreme Court on affirmative action, I want to believe that there is no entity more capable of finding a way to keep the original intent of affirmative action/diversity alive than higher education. To let go of diversity—not only as a compelling interest for all students, but also as a way to ensure that Black students, faculty, and staff are well-represented participants throughout higher education—has huge current and future ramifications for the whole of U.S. society.

Notwithstanding the probable decision of the Supreme Court, let’s hope that colleges and universities will not let go of the spirit of affirmative action/diversity with the construct of race at its center.

Some thoughts on drawing and painting

Guest post by Dee Jenkins

I think drawing and painting demand a certain kind of faith, a willingness to believe that bearing with the processes involved will eventually lead to a worthwhile outcome. If I didn’t hold that view, I don’t think I could tolerate the inevitable frustrations and disappointments that occur along the way.

When I work, I repeat a sequence of actions over and over again on the same surface. There are two phases in the sequence; one is analytical and intellectual, and the other is driven by interior sensations and needs. I used to think the phases were in conflict with each other in a negative way, but I have come to see the conflict as positive and critical even, because the tension it creates can eventually lead to a surprising and gratifying resolution well worth the time and effort involved.

Such a process, however, demands an endless evaluation and re-evaluation of pictorial elements, including the elements of a picture’s dimensions and edges. It was Giacometti who gave me permission to think of them this way, despite the fact that in most of my art classes I had been instructed to take the dimensions one starts out with as a given. Watching a dog “make its bed” also gave me permission, since before deciding on the right space in which to settle in and settle down, a dog will thoroughly investigate an area; go here, go there, circle around, dig things up, pat things down, etc., just as I like to do (sort of) before I can settle in and settle down within a pictorial space that feels comfortable.

Jazz, Latin, and Tango have all enriched my visual education, as have art and artists from both past and present. Best case scenario: there is music in what I do, and a rhythmic connection between the parts and the whole of every picture. It is frequently the “mistakes” I make as I work that lead me in the most unexpected and exciting directions, and any idea I start out with has by the end, been transformed into something very different from my initial intention. The process of creating an image is ultimately a mystery, and it may be one that is better left unsolved.

Dee Jenkins is a painter, and retired professor, County College of Morris, New Jersey.

The Excitement and Curiosity of Having “No Plans”

Retirement is one of those events that some look forward to with eager anticipation while others feel sad about the prospect.  Then there are some—like me—who don’t experience either of these thoughts or emotions.

On February 22, 2012, about a month before I officially retired from NASPA, I wrote the following in my journal:

As I get nearer to the final days at NASPA, I feel no sadness. I feel satisfaction and pray that all continues to prosper with the organization.

On March 1, 2012, I wrote:

I don’t think I’m going to miss my role. I just want to keep doing something that is meaningful to move our world forward. I want to add my part, fulfill my purpose, live up to my potential.

These were goals for my life. I had no plans for what I would do in retirement.  

Being without the responsibility of a job and having no reason to get up, to get dressed, and to leave the house would be a little like a free fall. I had to rely on my faith that without these routines and trappings of identity, I would still be able to maintain confidence in myself and optimism about my future.

As I dropped through the space of what could be a professional void, unexpected safety nets and lifelines afforded me a soft landing in the field of retirement after my last day as NASPA Executive Director on March 30, 2012. At the same time as I was consulting, facilitating workshops, and making speeches (see boxed list), I was working on writing projects with 2012 deadlines and organizing and filing a career’s worth of papers and notes at home.

What gave me the energy to follow through on the activities and experiences I had during the year that I “retired” was my excitement and curiosity about the experiment of having “no plans.”

Since this experiment, I’ve stopped making New Year’s resolutions and I’ve begun each year with optimism and “no plans.”

  • 4/15-16: Indiana State University
  • 4/18: Skype with master’s class, DePaul University
  • 4/25: in person with graduate class, University of Maryland, College Park
  • 5/21-29: China on behalf of NASPA
  • 6/4: Taylor University in Indiana
  • 6/19-23: Portland State University
  • 7/9: conference, Los Angeles
  • 7/28: conference, Manhattan
  • 7/30-8/3: University of Vermont
  • 8/16: University of Southern California
  • 8/30-9/1: Evergreen State University
  • 9/17-19: California State University, Fullerton
  • 9/18: Skype with graduate students, Colorado State University
  • 9/19-21: conference, Washington, DC
  • 9/30: Skype with graduate students, Oregon State University
  • 10/16-17: Berkeley College, New York City
  • 10/19: conference, Baltimore
  • 11/1-2: Wake Forest University
  • 11/18-19: conference, Hawaii


Ending my role as interim senior vice president for student services on June 5th.

Still smiling, still enthusiastic.

So grateful for the opportunity.

Once in a life-time experience.

The Next Chapter – The Story of Myself

It was one year ago April 1 (of all days), that I began my retirement as executive director of NASPA. Because I did not want to look back on the year and wonder what I had accomplished and how I had spent my precious time, I set a number of goals for myself. I am satisfied with my accomplishments because they have cleared the way for me to devote time to what I’ve thought I have wanted to do for years. I began writing about my life experiences with a chapter in a book of essays in 1994, and never have gotten back to it. Now is the time…

When I think about the number of memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies already written and published, I tell myself that the world does not need one more of these. Yet, I feel compelled to put my memories on paper because even as a child as I experienced the dailiness of my life, I would tell myself that I should remember this for the story I would tell later.

I share my plan to write as a measure of accountability for myself. As disciplined as I am, I need to feel an obligation, such as this public promise, in order to devote the time to writing.

In some ways, I feel selfish in writing about myself. My saving grace will be that if I write something that someone else will attribute meaning, then I will have given of myself in exchange for receiving the satisfaction of telling my story.

Fleeting Days of Summer…

August, as usual, flies by like a blur! We try to hold onto it because in our minds, once it disappears, the summer is gone.

During the first week in August, it was a privilege for me to participate in the AAC&U Summer Institute funded by the NEH and aptly titled, “Bridging Cultures to Form a New Nation: Difference, Community, and Democratic Thinking.” Participants were teams of faculty from ten community colleges who became students for six days to think about how to make practicing democracy a part of their pedagogy. I had the immense privilege of serving as facilitator for four teams of faculty in which we met for two-hour blocks to explore pedagogy and democratic thinking stimulated by a reading list from U.S. founding documents to Malcolm Gladwell. The discussions were amazing and there was phenomenal learning when the teachers became the students.

Mid-August, I had the privilege of going to the University of Southern California (USC) as the keynote speaker for the annual student affairs conference, which is no small matter. The conference pulls between 400 and 500 participants, and speakers include Olympic stars and legendary heroes. My friend and colleague, Michael Jackson, exhibited a lot of faith in me to have me serve as the keynote speaker. I think the mission was accomplished in what is the “Shangri-la” of university campuses.

It seems to me that the easiest job in the world must be working as a recruiter in the admissions office at USC what with their national rankings, their endowment, the Trojans, famous alumni, and the many huge gifts that have made the university a wonderland of resources, beauty, conveniences, and support for students. I hope USC students know how privileged they are. My hat is off to my colleague and friend, Vice President Michael Jackson, for the diversity in talent on campus and among his incredible student affairs staff.

It was more than a treat for me to attend commencement ceremonies at Texas A & M University, where I witnessed Lesley-Ann Brown, a former MUFP Fellow, receive her Ph.D. Lesley-Ann is a role model for all of us in persistence and courage. I met her lovely family and can see that the entire family has more than its share of talented and beautiful people.

During my stop at home this weekend, Charles and I got to some of our “things to do” list around the house. I can’t tell you how good it feels to begin to put checks by those tasks completed. The list is still long, but there is some light coming through the cracks.

Oh yes! I almost forgot that Charles and I took the AMTRAK to New York City with some of our dear friends to see Clybourne Park on Broadway. I sat transfixed by the actors who burrowed under my skin in showing the horrors of racism in the 1950s and then the horrors of entitlement during a period of gentrification in the 2000s. My take-away from the play is that nobody was a winner because in the midst of all the rationalizations, there was a tragedy where someone took their own life because they could not face the judgments of their fellow humans. The metaphor for me is that the issues of racism and entitlement can kill us, and we keep this fact hidden from ourselves in order to continue to indulge in the gratification of being right. The beauty of this work of art is that no one should feel justly satisfied with their contributions to this ongoing argument.

Well, I’m happily on the road again next week traveling out west, and I must say, I love this gig I call “retirement Gwen’s style.” One of my friends told me that I’m definitely not her role model for what retirement should be.

That’s it for now. Have to get back to my check list. Wishing you the best.

Embracing Friends and Colleagues

I was just reading an article in The Washington Post about a visit to Northern Virginia by Mata Amritanandamayi or “Amma” known as the “Hugging Saint.” Thousands of people line up and wait for hours to hug her and to be hugged. The amount of money raised from donations for the hugs support a humanitarian organization that builds schools, provides free health care and more. Millions of people follow her and have been hugged.  She continues to hug people for up to twenty-two hours or just as long as the people keep coming. Reading this story of the miracles that people feel as a result of being hugged made me think of something I miss in not being with my NASPA friends and colleagues. What I think I miss most are the hugs.

People who are not in student affairs tease us about always hugging one another. I never let that bother me because there is something special about embracing friends and colleagues. That something may be different for every person just as being embraced by the “Hugging Saint” was about energy to some and unconditional love to others. I have not analyzed what the hugs mean for me, but I do know that I value them and miss them. I leave for the ACUHO-I conference in Anaheim tomorrow and certainly hope that there will be some huggers there.

Finding Balance…Nails in the Wall Will Have to Wait

On the 36th day of my retirement, I took an hour this morning to just sit and think.  I’ve not slept late one day since I retired at the end of March, and I’ve usually worked at least twelve hours a day on something or another. If you have communicated with me, you have undoubtedly heard me say that I’m busier than I’ve ever been. When I’m asked how I like retirement, I smile broadly and say “I love it, and I recommend it highly!” I do recommend it highly, but I don’t recommend you chase each hour of the day as if it’s your last as I have done.  It has taken 36 days to realize that though my intentions are good, I do not need to do it all now.

It has never been in my nature to seek what we call “balance” in our lives. I’ve always said that my balance comes during that space in time when I complete the current goals and determine the new goals, but that’s just my way of justifying the fact that I have never sought balance in my life. I’ve always had a lot of energy and could not wait to get up in the morning and get moving. That is still the case, yet, somehow I feel as if the pace I’m keeping now is so punishing that I must not feel as if I deserve to rest.

Today, though I won’t stop moving toward my goals, I will look for those quiet moments when I can just be.

I understand intellectually that I’ll do what I do better with rest. Yet, I keep hearing my grandmother saying, “Child never stop; always keep busy. Do something even if it means nailing a nail in the wall and pulling it out.”  I learned that lesson and I keep nailing nails in the wall and pulling them out, and I get a lot of satisfaction from my accomplishments.

Now I think it’s time to create my own tape and delete the message from Mama Bennie. My wish for you, friends and colleagues, is that you succeed at finding balance as soon as possible.