June Cover
Volume 82 | Issue 3
June 2014

Executive Director's Column: Taking the Cake

Marsha Herman-Betzen

Ever since I returned from the annual conference in Orlando, I have been a bit melancholy. And while I have always enjoyed the annual conference as a volunteer and as a staff member, I don’t remember feeling quite like this.

Maybe the closest I have come to this nostalgic malaise happened more than 30 years ago when I was a volunteer serving on the 1984 Conference Program Committee. After the final banquet in St. Louis, I remember someone asking my fellow committee MHBmembers and me if we were relieved our hard work was finally completed. “No!” we said in unison. “Actually we are sad,” I said, “because we have become really good friends, and we had such a great time together producing a program that we were proud of and that was so well received.”

For me, this year’s “Celebration” conference in Orlando elicited similar but more layered emotions. We had the best of the best leading the 100th Anniversary Task Force and the 2014 Conference Program Team. They in turn selected talented committees. The Central Office staff was a seasoned group of supportive and motivated individuals who worked in concert with the volunteers. The Board of Trustees allocated the resources needed, and the Association was in a place financially to do so without consequence.
The gala, museum, all-conference service project, and the Visionaries documentary on PBS fulfilled the extraordinary goals that once had only been a dream. Outstanding educational content included keynotes, ACUI Talks, flash sessions, and traditional educational blocks. More money was raised through the Education and Research Fund than ever before. The Annual Business Meeting was given a makeover and became the new Meeting of the Delegates. The overachieving Volunteer Development Team outdid themselves by rebranding the awards show as The Honors and purchased stunning new Kokomo glass awards to be given for volunteer recognition. 

The JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes was magnificent, the weather outstanding, and ACUI was the first higher education association to celebrate 100 years, which resulted in the highest number of newcomers, overall attendance, exhibitors, and past presidents and veterans in attendance at an annual conference in recent memory. Top the whole thing off with the first year of a new regional structure; 15 sister higher education association executive directors in attendance; a registration fee that included three dinners, two lunches, a continental breakfast, and snacks at The Honors; and you have a conference that will not soon be forgotten.

But perhaps, all of this was the icing on the cake—a cake baked from an age-old recipe and passed down through decades. A recipe that includes long talks with colleagues in hallways between sessions, over early morning coffee or late-night glasses of wine, while breaking bread together at banquets or smaller dinners with friends, or simply after striking up a conversation with the person in the next lounge chair while catching a few rays at the pool. I think this year’s conference attendees got a taste of that feeling.

We are a group of individuals drawn together because we care deeply for the idea of a college union and each other. Depending on the kind of year we are having on our home campus, we wait the 12 long months until we can be together, remembering with great fondness our last meeting, and trying to keep our excitement at bay as we anticipate reconnecting with people who know and understand what we are facing, reassured they will help us sort out our challenges and celebrate our joys.

Truth be told, if I weren’t retiring at the end April 2015, I would be counting the days until I could hang out with all of you again at the annual conference in San Antonio. Instead, I will live each day to the fullest and wait patiently to cheer wildly at the Battle of the Regions, dance my last dance with whoever asks me, visit with as many of you as possible on the river near the Alamo, and enjoy these months leading an organization that takes the cake.