choosing to give


A lot of people have asked me recently if I'm planning on going back to RIT at the end of my sabbatical--or if, having tasted the sweet nectar of well-funded industry research, I might be tempted to stay in Seattle. I decided a few weeks ago that I was going to return to Rochester, but I had some lingering doubts and fears in my mind about whether I was making the right choice.

This weekend I flew back to Rochester for a few days, primarily to attend RIT's commencement ceremonies. For the first day or two, I did have some second thoughts about my decision. Departmental politics were running rampant, colleagues were stressed with last-minute grading, and the overcast skies were more oppressive than I remembered.

Last night, though, I heard two wonderful addresses at the university-wide convocation ceremony. The first was by Dean Kamen, which I really hope will be posted in its entirety on the RIT web site (as they've done with past speakers). Elouise covered some high points, but you had to be there to appreciate the warmth, wit, and charm of Kamen's delivery. It was lovely. (And yes, he did in fact ride a Segway up to and back from the platform, wearing his academic robes.) The second was by Erhardt Graeff, a student whom I first had in freshman seminar, and whose progress I've watched closely over the past four years. Erhardt's a wonderful young man--intellectually curious, adventurous, articulate, creative, and genuinely goodhearted. He was selected as our college's delegate for the university-wide ceremony, and then chosen as the one delegate to give the student address for all of RIT--and he did a spectacular job. Both of the speakers (without knowing the other's theme) chose to speak about graduation as a passage not from learning to doing, but rather as one from taking to giving...something that hit a resonant note for me.

This morning I woke up at 6:15am so that I could be at RIT by 7:15, and in my robes ready to line up for our college's commencement ceremonies at 7:30. Even after nearly ten years of doing this, I still love marching into the field house with pomp and circumstance playing, watching the parents and grandparents and spouses and partners and children craning their necks for a view of the processional, snapping photographs and clapping. And my favorite part of the school year is when our undergraduate students walk across the stage as their name is called. As they come down the steps, there are always a group of faculty waiting to shake their hands, and I'm always part of that group. I love watching the faces of these young men and women, many of whom I taught during their first quarter of freshman year, as they grapple with the realization that they're really, truly, graduating. More than one of them gets a hug from me rather than a handshake.

After the ceremony, our department hosts a brunch for the students and their families. It's hard to explain how much it means to me when a student pulls his or her parents over to meet me, telling them "This is Professor Lawley! Remember me telling you about her?" When I met Erhardt's mother today, however, I got something new...she told me she reads my blog. (Hi, Mrs. Graeff!)

I nearly cried a couple of times today. One of those times was meeting the family of Katie Giebel, a delightful young woman who took my introductory web/multimedia class the fall of her first year at RIT. She came close to leaving IT, but stayed after I (and others) convinced her that it was only a short term rough spot she'd run into. When she was invited into the RIT honors program, she told me she was worried she couldn't handle that and her ROTC responsibilities, and wanted to decline. I helped convince her to give it a shot, and she didn't just survive--she thrived. Katie graduated with honors today, and the Navy is sending her to Monterey to pursue a master's degree. (I'm wiping away a little tear right now, just typing all that.)

This year at MSR I've gotten an enormous amount from the amazing people around me, and I'm beyond grateful for that. But I don't have the opportunity to change lives that being a professor provides to me, to give what I can of myself to my students. I left the reception today 100% sure that coming back to RIT was the right choice. And as I pulled into the driveway of my mother's house, the sun finally came if to welcome me home.


Thanks for sharing, Liz!

RIT and the IT department would not be the same without you Liz - I'm glad you've decided to go back!

Thanks, Jon. That means more coming from a former student than from all the deans and faculty members combined.

You (and Jared, and Brendyn, and a few others) will be the subject of sloppy-sentimental post #2 later today. :)

This was quite wonderful. You are doing the right thing for the right reasons.

I feel greatly tied to my undergrad college, my institute for my semester abroad, and to my grad school (although a little less as I don't use what I learned on a daily basis as I do undergrad). I think of my professors quite often as they taught me a lot, the taught me how to learn, how to teach myself, and be confident.

The past few summers I have had the opportunity to present to a class of graduate students at the University of Maryland. That one day in that one course always gets me questioning what I am doing. I am one of three that present in that class and there have been many students that have delayed graduation just to take that class. Every so often I run into one of the students from that class and they are so appreciative of that 2 hours I gave. Some have used what I presented to land them jobs. It is the most incredible feeling.

Being incredibly curious at heart and my favorite part of my management jobs has been mentoring, I always wonder if I am on the right track. I love researching ideas and approaches as I am always seeing gaps in the ways we do things today, I left my last job last Fall to focus on this, but consulting and a project got in the way. I keep wondering how to best support those that have taken their lives to focus on the lives of others to spark the same curiosity and quest for better solutions.

When I left the classroom (high school in my case) to come to work for Microsoft I missed attending that graduation because things got in the way. I've wondered if going to it would have made leaving harder. From your story here I suspect it would have. I think I made the right choice for me for that time. But it was harder, by a lot, to leave the students behind than the school itself.
Part of me is sad that you are not staying at MSR but going back to RIT is probably the best thing for you and for RIT. So I'll try to be happy about that. :-)

I, too, am very pleased to hear this news. Although I will no longer be around campus much, if at all, it is nice to know I can find you without having to take a job at Microsoft to track you down.

You do make a difference, and you have so much to give. I do believe you have made the right choice. =)

Welcome home!

Hi, Professor Lawley!

My son, Erhardt, is the kindest man I know. Of all his accomplishments this is the one I celebrate the most. Thank you for recognizing him and his speech in your blog. He is enjoying a well-deserved rest at home now...I look forward to the conversations he and I will share about his work on your project, and the inspiration and wisdom he will undoubtedly receive from you. Erhardt is my son, but he is much teacher, my mentor, my gentle critic, my writing coach, and my muse...when he and I met almost 22 years ago now...he was instantly good company...I feel blessed beyond all expectations...and I have a daughter who is equally as marvelous. The very best to you and your family...Jane

I remember Katie Giebel from IMM! (I was your TA at the time.)

Congratulations, Katie!

I think you've made right decision!

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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on May 27, 2006 7:21 PM.

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