till haven't rustled up the drive or the words to jot down an account of the retreat yet: I'm in one of my moods where journaling just seems an unnecessary chore. But I will note that the President's all-faculty/staff convocation in Nunemaker Auditorium on the third floor of Munroe Hall was surprisingly interesting and enjoyable today. There was a geniality that I don't think I've ever
seen in a large faculty group before, and I was amazed at how many new faculty there were being introduced today: apparently 50% of the faculty is new in the last five years; that is, over half of the faculty now did not go through Katrina. A more exciting comparison with that time is that five years ago, the university had 3924 (if I recall correctly) applications for the freshman class, which was their high record to that date. Enrollment took a real hit after the storm, which is critical in a school funded by tuition. The administration really dug into that and in an amazingly short time, not only turned it around, but today announced that there had been around 5100 applicants for the incoming freshman class.
The high point of the day was near the end, after a talkative reception (where I was re-introduced to Thomas Ryan, now the director of the Loyola Institute for Ministry, who I had casually known as a Ph.D. student when I was doing my Master's coursework at Notre Dame), I ran into a group of first-year faculty running around comparing their offices to one another's; a group that included the other two first-year hires in Religious Studies, who I had met before the convocation: Aaron, an Islamic specialist, and Mari, a Judaism specialist. (I was the "Christian" hire, rounding out the Abrahamic trio.) Along with new Theatre prof Ben and Graphic Arts prof "Books," this was a high-octane group that just had me laughing right away. If this set takes to hanging out, the year's fun quotient just doubled. Either way, the already-fun future looked that much more entertaining to me.
On the way out (no one could do dinner this night as everyone pretty much had just arrived in town and had major unpacking or dog-feeding to do), I ran into two freshman at the stop for the streetcar. The freshmen have been here for a few days now, arriving for their orientations before the rest of the students, as I found out from a freshman pianist named Eric I talked with Sunday night, after hearing him practicing for his music auditions on a public baby grand in the student center. These two, a cute, black, fresh-faced and bubbly pair, were headed down to the downtown to go look around a bit. The guy was a local, but living on campus (a decision I congratulated him for, so that he got the full college experience) and the girl was from Florida, and I got to talking with the two of them while we waited for the next streetcar, with her especially, comparing notes as newcomers to the city, and with the guy chiming in now and again as to what we were doing right or wrong (like her forbidden desire to call the streetcars "trolleys," for which I was laughed into submission back in May). She was asking questions about my classes, and wondering if she could take them because she'd already decided I'd be a fun instructor. I disengaged once we got on board (after giving her a quarter for her fare so she didn't have to break another bill, for which she grinned and apologized) so that they could have their attention focused back on sharing the experience of starting college together. And I had to smile to myself as we made our way down St. Charles Avenue, remembering that freshman excitement from when I had experienced it. I wished them a good time as I got up to jump off at my stop, and secretly loved it when she called out, "See you later, Professor!"
After I got back to my house with some groceries in hand, I ran into my next-door neighbour that I had not known was a neighbour, Emily, who had apparently just returned to take over the apartment from a sub-letter. She's doing Master's work in Latin American Studies at Tulane, focusing on studying a small Jewish community in Nicaragua, and we had a lot of get-to-know-one-another chat (along with speculation about the crying baby I thought I'd heard in her apartment being our own New Orleans ghost) in a short amount of time, during which my upstairs Tulane first year Medical students, Yihan and Meghan, arrived home. And so we chatted for a short time on the porch, rounding out a day of meeting tons of people, every single one of whom made me nothing but happy with my new circumstances. I
also sent my first video email to the nieces from home, after having done so spontaneously at the end of the retreat when I saw McGlinn doing one to his kids and copied him off of his laptop setup. Today was Sophie's first day of school, and apparently she even had a bit of homework the night before, as Mom mentioned to me during a phone call. (I think she had to make a name tag for herself or somesuch.) But Mom said that she had been terribly excited (and proud, I suppose) to have homework to do, just like her big sisters. And so I imagined that scene, glowed with uncle-ly love, and wished that I could be there to see it. So I mentioned that in the video email, hoping to capitalize on her excitement and to make her feel even better about herself. I know the girls have gotten excited to get mail of unexpected sorts, and so I thought that maybe the novelty of this would be fun for them.