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Not knowing the question

2:44 PM  Sep 28th, 2012
by Michelle Tedford, '94

A little, lonely tree stands in the vast Central Mall, and the students embrace it.

Not literally — you won’t find them hugging this twig. But when we asked our readers through Facebook to help us choose a cover for the autumn issue, current and recent students often chose the sapling, pictured here, to illustrate “deep roots.”

That’s why I love asking questions and gaining feedback. Most often, I discover something I never knew to look for.

Like when I wandered into new student orientation and sat in Formica-topped desks with more than a dozen first-year students. I expected to learn what they thought of the first-year read, This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women. In the chit-chat din of a room mercifully darkened for this early hour, we discovered we had something in common: We all lived in Marycrest. Their “lived” was quite recent, as in that’s where they awoke a half hour ago and rolled out of bed, down the hill to the Humanities Center and into their first UD classroom experience. For me, “lived” was 1990, when I was barely 18 and the Humanities Center was but a patch of grass with a mammoth forsythia bush.

Marycrest is just a building — bricks and bathrooms and doors we walk through every day, holding them open for the person coming after us.

And while a tree is just a tree, in it students saw promise, hope, potential. They saw evidence of what has sprouted on campus, a liveliness in the setting, a simplicity of meaning. I saw a Charlie Brown tree that didn’t have roots deep enough to embrace all I wanted to tell in the story of James Kielbaso’s first trip to campus in 50 years.

What I came to see was that the little tree wasn’t about him — it was about them.

We received hundreds of votes on the cover, and I should be careful not to compartmentalize our readers or second-guess their reasoning. When I posted the images, I wasn’t looking for a straight tally to tell us which we should choose; I wanted to know whether yellow leaves were preferred over green ones, whether statues gave the image meaning or diluted its purpose. Instead, I got a glimpse of how we relate to this place, how we see ourselves reflected in this campus, how we learn we belong.

These are answers to a question I never knew to ask from people who share with me a common connection.

A magazine cover may be just a photo, a dorm just a building. But UD is never just a school, something to which we can all agree no matter how deep our roots.

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