Happy New (Academic) Year

The Rev. Scott R. Pilarz considers what he most likes about August in the cycle of academic life.

August 27, 2007

This week, along with teachers across the country, I will perform one of August's most cherished rituals for educators. I will prepare a syllabus for the course I'm offering over the next 15 weeks. Such preparation, while tempered with some trepidation, is an act of love, hope and faith, to invert a biblical triad.

Love, because of a deep-seated and ever growing affection for the subject matter. Preparing a syllabus means taking up again the books that have sat on their shelves since June while I've enjoyed a summer fling with contemporary novels and films. Now I'll dust off and crack open the medieval and early modern poems and plays that I'll have the opportunity of introducing to my students. Regardless of academic discipline, however, all teachers likely feel the same. August is the month for intellectual homecoming, for experiencing again how the life of the mind is also an affair of the heart.

Hope, because of the potential inherent in a new semester and new students. In education, as in no other endeavor, every summer's end offers a clean slate -- figuratively and literally. And while blackboards are rare in today's technologically sophisticated
classrooms, what remains constant for students and teachers is August's sense of anticipation. Labor Day Weekend is our New Year's Eve. Trepidation, because we know, increasingly, of our foibles and life's fragility.

Perhaps now I am writing as one who has seen a lot of Augusts come and go. The 15 weeks ahead, while filled with possibilities, are all too short, and what might be accomplished in any classroom is subject to compromise and the kinds of confusion attendant upon the lives of the young. And the old, for that matter.

But for all that, "there lives the dearest freshness" in these waning days of summer. My students, colleagues and I are privileged to find and feel that freshness as we bid welcome to another fall. Happy New Year.


The Rev. Scott R. Pilarz is president of the University of Scranton.


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