I experienced three events in the last couple of days, which seemed relatable to me.
First, I heard a story about a visit by President Kennedy to Cape Canaveral on an inspection of the facilities in 1962. He encountered a man carrying a large broom for sweeping one of the aircraft bays. The president asked him what he was doing, and he answered, “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.” The story has shock value because it’s rare to see employees at all levels so devoted to the mission of the agency at the most strategic level. It certainly is the aspiration of any large organization to generate such deep identification with the highest goals of the institution.
Second, on a recent morning while walking into campus, I passed a young student holding an iPhone taking a picture close to an emergent fern, all wrapped around itself. It was a growth so unlike what we know the final visage to be that it grabbed attention. She had clearly stopped for a moment outside the rush of classes and paper writing, to focus on something completely different from her studies. I thought about how wonderful it was that she took that moment, and how wonderful it was that she had that growing plant to grab her attention.
Third, yesterday on campus, a very important day for Georgetown’s commitment to dealing with the legacies of slavery, it was a glorious day – bright sunshine, in the mid-70’sF. The campus was filled with visitors and press and descendants of the 272 enslaved persons sold in 1838.
As I walked across campus, I found the red flowers unusually red, and the greenness of the new leaves on trees especially bright. I walked by sets of campus tour groups and thought about how lucky they were to see the campus at such a peak of its beauty.
Then I passed a set of gardeners working on one of the beds of flowers around the statue of John Carroll. It looked like they were digging up bulbs to replace with some annuals. I knew within a few days that circle would be alight in color.
And I remembered the janitor at Cape Canaveral.
My hope is that those digging in the flower beds know how important their work is to the impression of those young people visiting the campus (trying to decide whether Georgetown is the place for them to come for their self-discovery of undergraduate years). The workers were doing their work while one of the significant historical events was occurring on campus; I hoped they had a sense that they were part of the institution’s action. They were making part of the initial visual impression of thousands of visitors to the campus, some visiting dignitaries, some community members whom Georgetown is attempting to serve. They were creating the environment for faculty and students who conduct the most visible activities of the educational community. I hope they knew that their work creates the essence of the visual impression of Georgetown. The first impressions never leave us; all the university’s ability to fulfill its mission depends on those first impressions. Those caring for the campus grounds help create these impressions.
They are a key part of Georgetown’s equivalent of putting a man on the moon. I hope they know that.