What I learned from community

We went to commencement. We didn’t expect a speaker. When we looked at the program, we discovered that there was a speaker. E.J. Dionne.

I hear him on NPR. I hear him on TV news programs. Although we aren’t always in the same place, I always appreciate his thoughtfulness and balance.

His address was great. For the first graduating class of the new School of Communication at Loyola University, his balance of religion and journalism and communication was perfect.

andrew and allie celebrate graduation(In fact, it was the high point in a ceremony where the high point should have been the conferring of a degree on Alica (uh li sha)  Christine Markland. The name called was Alicia (uh lee see a)  Charlene. We were so confused, we didn’t clap. And Allie was our real reason for going to commencement. Allie and Andrew have been dating for more than four years.)

After the ceremony, Allie’s family and our family went to the reception. We talked and mingled and celebrated. After a bit, I looked up and realized that E.J. Dionne was in the room, having dessert and talking with graduates.

I thought about talking to him, asking for his autograph. And then I thought, “that is so uncool. Besides, why would he talk to you.”

And then I remembered my new friend Glenda. A week ago, Glenda and I were at the same conference in Chicago. The day before the conference, Glenda went to visit Oprah’s studios, just to see where they are. For Glenda that meant steering her scooter two miles on Chicago sidewalks in the rain.

All I had to do was turn and look in his face and say “hello.”

I turned and asked. We chatted. I have his autograph on a page of my little moleskin next to my notes on his address.

How is this about community?

Glenda Watson Hyatt and Jon Swanson

Glenda Watson Hyatt and Jon Swanson

Community is when you hear the voice of a friend, even a new friend, telling you to climb down off your silly false pride and say “hi.” (Though she would never say it that way. She would be far more gracious).

Thank you Glenda.

And thank you Robert for the invitation to write about what I learned from community.

Photo courtesy Chris Cree

14 responses to “What I learned from community

  1. Hi Jon,

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post. Thinking about it as I type, why do we put up this artificial barrier between us? Why do we tell ourselves “he won’t talk me” or “she is out of my league”? Why did I have to work at remaining cool when Gayle King stepped out of a limo and walked into Harpo Studios – mere feet in front of me?

    I had a similar experience as you described above while I was at SOBCon: I had wanted an autograph from a particular blogger who I see as miles ahead of me. After my presentation, I saw an opportunity. Taking a deep breath and book in hand, I went over and asked him to signed the book. Later, I learned that when he realized it was me, he felt nervous. Nervous of me? Why?

    Imagine if we let go of these artificial barriers and see ourselves as good enough, interesting enough, worthy enough to walk up to someone and introduce our authentic self. Imagine what kind of community we could build.

  2. Man, this was a great idea, Jon, Glenda: a two-part post – the first half from Jon, and the second half from Glenda. Seriously, this is almost like tag-team writing!

    Once again, Jon, ya stomped on my toes! (Can you see me hopping around on one foot?) What a great lesson on false pride and how insidious it can be.

    And a hat tip to Glenda for her kind and thoughtful addition, too!

  3. ah, dear Glenda.

    They are artificial barriers. And yet, artificial or not, they stop us. We
    think we have nothing to say.

    Or maybe that’s just me.

    And I’m really glad we finally met.

  4. Robert. Was that your toe? I was sure it was mine.


  5. I liked this post and just turning around and saying hello…My daughter is graduating in June and we were thinking about not going to the reception; her grades are not high enough to get to listen to the speaker…that graduation is the next day..different reception too!
    We are very proud of her accomplishments, maybe her good friends will come and see her graduate the day before?

    I hope she and all the graduates can get a good job and support themselves…maybe a bigger test than getting to hear the speaker?

  6. Patricia,

    What a shame your daughter is denied hearing the speaker because her grades aren’t high enough. What final message is school sending her as she embarks on her adult life: because you aren’t [academically] smart, you aren’t good enough, you aren’t worthy? What kind of artificial barrier is that? How is that building an inclusive community and celebrating every citizen? Shame on the school!

    Are there a few other students in a similar position? I’m wondering about arranging another speaker for these kids and truly celebrating what they HAVE accomplished. Surely this would be very possible! Send these kids off on a positive so they feel worthy find good jobs and lead successful, meaningful lives!

    Let me know if I can help in anyway.

  7. This has happened to another daughter – two who were 4.0 graduates but did not want to pay the big dollars to attend graduation and pay for the speaker so did not…both are in Grad. schools now and a pleased they did not have to pay.
    My youngest child wants to get dressed up and have a dinner with family and she will hear the President or Dean speak but not the big name speaker there will be 300 other graduates in her position, so she will not be alone, but it just seems demeaning. I am going to watch to see how many folks of color are in her group (she is Asian heritage) and has learning problems. We are just delighted she was able to make it through and with good grades for her.
    We are back to the hopes for work…I appreciated your good word and ideas. Thank you

  8. paying for commencement. Things are different than what I ever experienced
    in higher ed.

    I realized that you two are closer geographically to each other than to me.
    And I’m ejoying the conversation.

  9. Pingback: Middle Zone Musings » All Entries: What I Learned From Community

  10. I love, love, love Glenda’s post regarding your post…because it’s a challenge to me…I have no fear of talking to people who I don’t know. I see people as people and I am not intimidated by perceived fame of someone. It is when I might have to see that person again, and again that I become afraid…that I lose words and confidence. I have been wounded by those who say they love me…and accepted by strangers. Ironic, really…and yet that’s the way it is. A stranger doesn’t know my triggers…a friend does…or should, maybe.

    Last night N was talking about Facebook and how people are friends with people on FB that they wouldn’t be friends with at school, or anywhere else, and they even have different personalities there. We talked about both sides of that…the good stuff about that (getting to know people you might not know, and getting some of “you” out there that you might not be able to face to face) and the bad stuff too (being someone totally different than you are or hiding behind the screen to be cruel). She’s 13 and has been on FB for less than a month…and she gets that.

    She’s a good teacher about community. And so are you, Jon. And Glenda…wow…in the two posts I’ve read of hers…I think she should BE on Oprah so others could hear her words.

  11. being real is so hard. being vulnerable to say ‘hi’ knowing you could get a negative response is so hard.

    thanks for the encouragement to be real jon.

  12. Thank you for this extension of this conversation, Jill. You articulate the
    challenges of ongoing relationship very well.

    And I think she’ll end up on Oprah. Or someplace like that. How could she

  13. Philip – this is why I could never be in sales, where no is not a problem,
    not a measure of identity. But I can probably learn something from that.

  14. Glenda humbled me and helped me to see some of my false assumptions, even though I didn’t attend her presentation.

    Good on you, Glenda!