The Power of Story
Dear Saint Mary’s Friends,
Twenty-two years ago, when our three daughters were still quite young, my husband—who never fully understood the pleasure I took in New Year’s resolutions—came up with the bright idea that instead of making resolutions for the coming year, each of us should identify the “Top 10” experiences in our lives in the past year. So, on a frigid late-December morning, each of us wrote our own list on strips of paper and then went out for breakfast. We set someone’s hat in the center of the table, tossed in all 50 folded strips, and, starting with our youngest, we moved in a circle, drawing out one memory at a time and inviting the writer to share why it was important to them.
Thus began our essential end-of-year tradition, which, even from our different parts of the world, we continue today. For each of us, looking back and remembering these most cherished or meaningful experiences creates an individual story of our year. When we discover (and it always happens!) that several of us name the same experience, we start to see the shape of our family story for that year. I love this annual tradition, but I must admit that I also still quietly make some New Year’s resolutions. After all, if the “Top 10” inventory tells a story of the past, resolutions tell a story about the future—about how we might evolve or what better version of ourselves we might become. As a literary person, I understand the power of story to project possibilities.
Three years ago, my January letter announced that the College community had completed a new institutional story for its future. The strategic plan—Revere and Revise: Saint Mary’s College 2030—imagines a strong and confident future for the College, with ambitious goals that build on past accomplishments. For the past three years, we have been working steadily to achieve those goals, and several exciting work streams are coming together as we complete the first phase of the plan and move into 2024.
A cornerstone for realizing many of the goals is a new signature program that will impact every Saint Mary’s student. The “Avenue” experience weaves together academic study, vocational discernment, career preparation, experiential learning, spiritual development, and the essential knowledge and skills for leadership. Spanning their four years at Saint Mary’s, students will have a team of advisors and mentors who will take a strengths-based approach in helping them to discover their own path—their Avenue—and to navigate the college experience they want. These teams will help students to stay on track or take a different tack, to identify experiences that can advance their individual goals, and to reflect on their academic progress, community engagement, personal growth, and sense of belonging.
Prospective students are learning about the Avenue experience (and many other aspects of Saint Mary’s) through our beautiful new admission print materials that tell the story of the empowering education students receive at Saint Mary’s. Aimed at high school students, these documents are full of fresh and contemporary stories about the SMC experience and vibrant images of today’s campus life. Alumnae and friends of the College will also have an opportunity to read more about Avenue and other exciting news from campus in the next issue of the College magazine. While Courier has carried the news from campus to you for many years, we have also made upgrades to this important publication. Strengthened, revitalized, and redesigned, it even has a new name—Avenues—and it should land in mailboxes this week. On campus, we have been saying we want the Avenue experience to prepare students for all the avenues they will take in life, and Avenues will continue to highlight the remarkable roads traveled by our alumnae and their significant milestones.
You can read more about the Avenue experience on our recently refreshed website. And while you are on the website, I hope you will poke around a bit! There is so much that is new, including a brief new “vision video” that speaks to the pillars of who we are and how we serve students today. Later this week, we will be posting an electronic version of Avenues on the website. We will also be launching a new monthly e-newsletter: SMC Stories.
Many of these components of advancing our strategy are really about telling a comprehensive Saint Mary’s story—one that emphasizes the need to look both backward and forward, to honor the past while innovating for the future. The last time I invited all Saint Mary’s constituencies into listening sessions, it was to request input into Revere and Revise in Fall 2020. As I mentioned in my last letter, I will be inviting people into a new round of listening sessions. I know there is a need to talk about the concerns of the recent past. It is my hope that these conversations will identify the enduring values that define us as a Catholic, women’s college and contribute to the shape of our ongoing Saint Mary’s story.
Katie Conboy, Ph.D
January 8, 2024