STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 05/06/2011

Sporks | A President Precedent

Informative fauxlosophy from a recent alum: Installation 12

When I graduated from Gordon in 2004, it was one of the hottest May days on record, turning our black robes into space heaters, and leaving my wife and me gingerly applying aloe vera to our necks for a solid week afterward. Despite the physical discomfort, I felt great pride for each decorated figure behind the podium, President Carlberg included. There was something powerful for me there, sitting in that skillet of a folding chair out on the quad. In that moment I may have been in pain, but beyond the temporal I sensed a far more eternal achievement circulating amongst the crowd.

And by “achievement” I don’t mean grades, internships or a corner apartment in Tavilla. Instead I speak of a subtext of success, of a transformation of the mind that moves a life into its process of passion—something there is no syllabus for. It is why, seven years out, there are still things steeping and deepening long after my last trip to Gillie’s veggie wrap buffet.

That is the struggle of leadership: to retain a hold on the momentary while always looking and working towards the eternal; to not just pen the words but intuit the subtext. President Carlberg models this dual role, and it is that ability that will leave a mark not just on campus but also on the students whose minds are just beginning to percolate with vocation.

While it may seem odd to think about burning moments amidst a glowing tribute, there is some level of discontent necessary during a college experience. Even I, a regular writer for this blessed publication, left for a year to chase dreams in England only to discover how much I unexpectedly missed convocation and HUD dorms.

I think Jud understood this truth deeply. But first, an aside of sorts: In his State of the Union Address for 2011, President Obama spoke of this delicate balance of a leadership that resides in struggle but moves toward unity. “We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us . . . none of this is easy. All of it will take time. And it will be harder because we will argue about everything. The cost. The details. The letter of every law.” Leadership, then, is the paradoxical ability to take part in and step back from battling spheres of opinion.

Jud didn’t avoid tension—he set up camp on the borderlands, somehow always retaining that distinctive Carlbergian grin. And, though it may not be immediately apparent, I am crafting the subtext to be a loving paean to leaders cut from the Jud-cloth—a compliment I don’t deal out lightly. In fact, things might have been different if my undergraduate brain had felt totally safe and protected by my college. My reflections by this point would clearly show that Gordon had not pushed me into places of cognitive dissonance, forcing my hands and brain to grapple with the troubles that face our world and our history, and ultimately form our passions.

If students take seriously the books and ideas they come across at Gordon, then of course they’re going to start practicing their rallying whoop. I mean, c’mon! They’re reading Malcolm X, Simone de Beauvoir and Elie Wiesel! It’s time to flex those muscles for social change, even if it starts with petty things like chapel attendance and the lack of Dr. Pepper in the cafeteria (ok—I’m dating myself here; I speak of those who remember the time right before GCSA president Chuck Cabral’s Soda Pop Miracle).

What staggers me as I think back over my time under Dr. Carlberg’s tenure is his ability to not give in to the allure of the momentary, whether it was negative or positive. He knew to acknowledge gripes and celebrate achievements, but more importantly, he knew how to keep moving forward past the temporal and into the eternal. And this idea surpasses this moment of tribute into bigger territory. We are unique—fearfully and wonderfully made, for sure. But, we are our full selves even as we populate that great cloud of witnesses, and keep the sun from scarring those that follow us.

bryan parys doesn’t like to capitalize his name. He holds an M.F.A. in creative nonfiction and, amongst other freelance writing gigs, is a contributing scholar for the interfaith relations publication State of Formation ( He tried to resist that too-clever title, but he has a problem, and deserves to be pun-ished.

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