Happy New Year! I hope your break included moments of joy, opportunities for rest, and quality time with those you love. For students who are returning from studying abroad (or who recently departed), I hope you experience a smooth transition as you reflect upon these once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunities. This spring, we also welcome new students and are so glad you are here! I look forward to seeing each of you on campus in the days ahead.
In addition to celebrating the holiday season and the start of a new year, I also recently celebrated one year at Wake Forest. Throughout my first year, I intentionally counted each day, beginning with Day One and continuing that practice until Day 365. This exercise included a daily reflection and allowed me to broaden my awareness of the ah-ha moments, the joys, the sorrows, the perplexities, the simplicities, the small and big wins, the personal life enmeshed with the professional, the big questions, and the pinch-myself moments. It also allowed me to slow time down just a little.
Reflecting on the fullness of this past year has reminded me of how much I have learned. As you may recall from the beginning of your first semester (or any major transition), it can be exciting and challenging to be new. I appreciate all who have made me feel so welcome. Adjusting to a new campus, home, and city while developing community, friendships and relationships are all important to transitioning to a new place and feeling a sense of belonging. This thought process is important, not only for students but for each of us.
Over the past year, I have enjoyed getting to know you virtually and in person, being able to see your full faces, celebrating President Wente’s inauguration, and experiencing the splendor of commencement on Hearn Plaza. This past fall, highlights included welcoming the class of 2026, cheering at athletic events, continuing to pepper my closet with old gold and black, and participating in my first Hit the Bricks, Pitsgiving, and Lovefeast. Through new initiatives like Gold and Black Chats, Wake Up Wednesdays, and Milkshake Mondays, I have begun to understand what is important to you and the ways in which we can continue to enhance your experience. I have also enjoyed organic moments at the Pit, on the Quad, and at events.
As I piece words together to form a holistic reflection of this year, it feels daunting to capture—succinctly or otherwise—all of its glory. Indeed, the lessons learned during my first 365 days are far too many to count and often difficult to articulate. Early in my tenure, I learned that each of you created a Top Ten List as part of your application to Wake Forest, so I, too, created my own Top Ten List to capture what I learned this year. I hope these are reflections that might be useful to you as you begin the spring semester.
Top Ten Lessons from the Forest:
- Reflect often. In order for time to slow down, we have to slow it down. We must ask ourselves regularly, What? So what? Now what?
- Relationships matter. In a world filled with noise, competing expectations, stress, joy, excitement and disappointment, we must surround ourselves with people who can challenge, affirm, support and celebrate with us.
- To build trust, we have to trust. A “we” approach requires communication, humility, curiosity, grace, vulnerability, and seeking feedback (and using it).
- Be a whole person in front and behind the scenes. It is so easy for us to dehumanize others and to dehumanize ourselves if we are not careful. It is okay not to be okay. Sometimes we need to share our stories, the personal challenges, ask for what we need, and adjust to being on the receiving end of support.
- Take a break. Schedule breaks and downtime. Make time for the daily jog/walk. Give ourselves grace. In what ways do we create our own “busy,” and how does this counteract with our wellbeing?
- Stay curious. How might our dialogue change if more conversations included “Tell me more” instead of asking “Why?” How might suspending judgment help us to learn something new, be more inclusive, and foster belonging? We are experts of our own experiences, and a posture of curiosity helps us to expand our ability to see other perspectives.
- Identify and share core values. Determine values driving decision-making, share them and assess whether stated values align with our actions.
- Look for strengths and opportunities. When our outlook comes from a strengths perspective, we begin to more clearly identify our unique contributions and our place in the world, and as a result, have a greater appreciation for our collective strengths.
- Practice pro humanitate. Our motto is an aspiration and a goal. It requires that we commit to the deep inner work of reflection, discovery, and development so that we can be a part of outer work connected to creating positive change in the community and the world.
- Give thanks. Gratitude is also a practice, and when we ask ourselves, “What is going right?”, we often find affirmation in David Steindl-Rast’s words, “It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
As I begin year two and each of us begins the new year, I look forward to all that we will learn together and the ways we will add to this list. Wake Forest is a special community, and I am grateful to be a part of cultivating an experience where you matter, belong, and thrive. Have a great first week, and I will see you soon!
Shea Kidd Brown
Vice President for Campus Life