From the President: Accepting alternative courses

From the President: Accepting alternative coursesMichael Henthorne2004-01-018Boardroomfalse

Members in the Association often ask how I like traveling for ACUI. Actually, I haven't had to do all that much traveling, but there's certainly more than in a typical year. Where it gets interesting is when travel does not go as planned. Such was the case with my most recent trip to the Region 14 conference in Bellingham, Wash.

The Region 14 conference was scheduled on the same weekend that my home institution, Oregon State University, had planned its "Dad's Weekend" celebration. My oldest son, Eric, is graduating from OSU this year, and I had promised him that we would spend the weekend together. In the early years of his college career, he had worked on Saturdays and could not attend. We were planning a spectacular finale. He also knew that I had to make a short trip to Bellingham on Thursday for the conference and that I planned to return Friday evening. I really enjoy attending our regional conference, as I've been in the same region for all 27 years of my career. Wanting to be in two places at one time is difficult, but with careful travel planning, I felt I could pull this one off.

On the day I arrived in Bellingham, there was a huge storm with 70 m.p.h. winds and torrential rain. It made landing in our commuter plane a memorable event. Power was out in much of the city, but it had spared the campus, so the conference's opening banquet progressed as planned. On Friday, I presented an educational session and attended several others before going to the airport for my flight home. Now, you have to picture what I'm about to tell you. Although the Bellingham airport says it is an "international" airport, I'm fairly certain that it is only so designated because it flies a commuter flight 90 miles north to Vancouver, B.C. The airport has only one airline and one gate. It also has only one snack bar, which had closed early because our flight had just nine passengers booked. (Thank you, Jim Schuster and host committee, for putting an apple in the gift bag.)

I had waited about 30 minutes when the airline announced the cancellation of this, the last flight out of Bellingham. The remnants of the storm were still visible in the area, with wind gusts of up to 40 m.p.h. The airline offered eight of the nine passengers the option of taking a taxi to the Seattle airport, 106 miles south. The taxi company must have looked long and hard for a vehicle that could handle eight passengers and all their associated luggage. What they eventually sent us was a 10-year-old Chevy Suburban, driven by a man in his early 60s named "Buddy."

Buddy was a lifelong chain smoker and continuous coffee drinker. His Suburban had seen better days and now traveled down the interstate with a severe shimmy whenever he drove it faster than 70 m.p.h. He was committed to getting us to the airport in time for our connecting flights. Buddy was a careful driver and our only worries came when he went into coughing spasms and when the wind would push us around. Each of the passengers crossed their fingers that the wind and his coughing did not occur simultaneously, as seatbelts were in short supply.

I was most amazed that not one of the passengers got upset about any of this. We took time in the car to get to know each other and joke about the situation. All of the passengers had a common goal: Each really wanted to get to our next destination. But the path to that destination was going to be a bit different than originally planned.

It's often that way with organizations' strategic plans, as well. I kept thinking about how we get so focused on our current path and its steps that we lose sight of our true goal. ACUI has had a great strategic plan for several years that is as valid today as it was when we created the plan. What has changed and will likely continue to change are the goals and the steps we will use to get there. In the months ahead, you will likely hear and perhaps participate in further discussion and information about the Board of Trustees and Central Office review, updating of the Association's strategic plan, and revision of its associated goals. It will continue to be a focus of the Board of Trustees.

To close the story about my travel, I missed my flight in Seattle and the last flight of the evening had mechanical problems. I was stranded and could not get home until Saturday, the last day of Dad's Weekend at OSU. My son attended the Friday evening Jay Leno comedy concert with his mother acting as my surrogate. I would arrive the following day to enjoy his company.

There was one, huge payback for having spent an extra night on the road. I took a 6 a.m. flight out of Seattle to Portland, Ore., on Saturday that had only a few passengers on board. My son had loaded some of my favorite music on my PDA before I left. I had my headphones on, staring out the window watching the sun rise, as I listened to Bruce Springsteen sing: "Come on rise up, Come on rise up." It was as if he were coaxing the sun right out of the ground. The rising sun painted a magnificent scene over the Cascade Mountain Range in every color. I spent that time thinking about how glorious this life is and how lucky I am. I played back in my mind all the stages of my oldest son's life, from his birth to present day, and contemplated what might be ahead as he gets ready to graduate from college. We were going to spend a magnificent day enjoying each other's company.

Our destination is often the right place, but sometimes our path to get there must be altered. If we are willing to accept that altered path with grace and an open heart, the clarity of what life is trying to teach us comes into full view.

The 2004 Conference Program Team has orchestrated an incredible conference experience for your educational needs and community building within this profession. I encourage each member of ACUI make attending this year's annual conference a priority.

Updated Nov. 9, 2012