JESUS RODRIGUEZ/THE HOYA
JESUS RODRIGUEZ/THE HOYA

I am neither a senior nor graduating, but I am leaving my position as dean of the Georgetown College after nine years. My own college years, now long passed, shaped my intellect, values and established many life-long friendships. My years as dean have shaped my professional life. It would be rare for a Ph.D. student to desire to be a dean, and I was no exception. I wanted to be a theologian, and with my appointment to Georgetown as an assistant professor of theology in 1988 I realized that ambition.

My world as a dean has been vastly different from my time on the faculty. As a professor, I spent my time preparing and delivering class lectures, publishing in specialized journals and writing books that I hoped someone would read and benefit from. As dean, I have overseen, and hopefully improved, the College curriculum, working closely with departments, programs and faculty. I have spent my time fundraising, interacting with alumni across the globe, strategizing with senior administrators and working daily for students with colleagues in the Office of the Dean.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I care deeply about students. From meetings with the College Academic Council to regular student dinners at my house, I have been keenly aware that students come to Georgetown to go to college, with all that it implies — from extracurricular activities, internships, friendships and hardships to parties in my neighborhood, volunteering in the city, leading student groups and competing for prestigious fellowships, all while maturing from freshmen to seniors so they are prepared for adult life and responsibilities.

As a professor and a dean, I have accompanied thousands of students through Georgetown; in a sense, I have graduated with them each year, whether I was grading their thesis or handing them their diploma. Many of them I will never hear from again, but some keep in touch, extending the student years to the alumni years.

Some of my encounters with students have been challenging, such as when I am tasked with meting out consequences for Honor Council violations. However, these too can be rewarding, like when a student wept in my arms after I reduced his penalty for an irresponsible freshman transgression. Most have been positive, whether sharing a Georgetown University Grilling Society burger on the lawn outside my office in White-Gravenor Hall or entertaining and being entertained by the Georgetown Chimes at my house.

There is no singular “Georgetown experience.” The Ignatian phrase cura personalis means that we care for all students where they are in life and that each student is unique. For some students, the “Georgetown experience” means attending their dream school. For others, it may be intimidating initially. For some, it means being supported by well-to-do parents and not worrying about the cost of Georgetown. For some, it means working in the library, a department office or a local restaurant to defray the tuition burden or simply to have some spending money.

For some, it means dozens of friends with the accompanying social life. For some, it may be lonely at times. For some, it is slew of A’s with an occasional A-. For some, it is B’s and C’s with an occasional A-. For some, it is Hoya Hoopla at the Verizon Center. For some, it is meditation in the John Main Center. For some it is late nights in Leavey Center meeting deadlines for The Hoya or the Voice.

For some, it is majoring in English or government or both. For others, it is explaining to peers or parents the choice to major in classics, art history or theology. For all of our students, being a Hoya means both opportunity and challenge.

Professional graduate programs teach you how to make a living; liberal arts colleges teach you how to live and why life is worth living. As a Jesuit university, our responsibility for undergraduate residential education includes development of the whole person, not only academic accomplishment. I believe that the maturation of students requires time and personal attention from faculty, staff and administrators. This process can neither be rushed nor accomplished electronically. I am happy to have made that investment and know the benefits stay with students well beyond the college years.

The Jesuits have supported and inspired me. We are not the University of California, Berkeley and we are not Brown University — we are Georgetown. As fine as these and other peer schools are, the Jesuit character of our institution sets us apart.

I return to the classroom and scholarship with projects on my plate: To produce a long-overdue second edition of my book on Catholicism in the United States and to finish my incomplete book manuscript on interreligious marriage. I shall return to the solitary efforts of a scholar in the sparse study carrels of the Woodstock Theological Library, leaving behind — somewhat happily, somewhat wistfully — the meetings, budget decisions, travel, fundraising, speech-making and entertaining of a dean’s life.

I regularly tell prospective students that Georgetown is special. It is the place where you meet the people who will dance at your wedding. Indeed, it is, because you make it special. So dance.

Chester Gillis is the outgoing dean of the College.

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