Spring Has Sprung
Dear Saint Mary’s Friends,
Today is just that kind of day. A day when the mid-April light opens in long shafts over our pastoral campus perched on the bank of the St. Joe River. A day that reveals tell-tale signs that spring is here to stay: greened-up lawns, blossoming trees and shrubs, daffodils in their cheerful glory. A day of birdsong and nesting. A day when it feels like we have washed the mud from our eyes and are seeing the world around us for the first time, or simply with new vision. A day in the period of celebration we call “Eastertide”—the holy season of the Church that spans from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.
It’s also a day in the middle of National Poetry Month, and I stole my opening sentence from Billy Collins’ poem “Today.” Spring poems are plentiful in the history of poetry, but this particular one is resonating with me as we move through this season of hope and see the completion of the academic year just ahead.
If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.
What an appealing little poem! Its 18 lines make up a single headlong sentence—a kind of delirious runaway train of thought. And I think the poem appeals to me today in large part because it evokes a kind of spring fever: the overwhelming desire to be released from the cage or the paperweight of winter—both literal and metaphorical—feels so immediate and so intense. Indeed, it has been a full year of winter for all of us.
Evidence of spring abounds among our students as well! While I am still running outdoors in long sleeves and sweats, our students donned shorts and tank tops the minute the weather allowed. Hammocks are hanging from the trees again, and students are sunbathing and conducting yoga sessions on the greens. They are eating under the tent, where the sides have been removed to let in the open air. And people are just slowing down and enjoying the sunshine as they move between classes.
Our spring athletic teams have remained healthy and in competition, and in at least one sport Saint Mary’s been the only college in the league to play the full schedule. Softball currently sits with a 10-10 record. Lacrosse was named Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) conference co-champions (tied with Calvin University). Saint Mary’s will be the top seed in the post-season lacrosse tournament, which begins on Saturday, April 24. Tennis also competes this Saturday, and they hope to move the needle on their 4-4 season. And golf is currently tied for first place in the league, with their final jamboree on Saturday as well. After a full year of cancelled sport seasons, I am so happy that our spring athletes did not lose a second year of competition to the coronavirus.
Student Government Association elections took place in March. Juniors Eleanor Hanson and Adriana Salgado were elected President and Vice President of the SGA. They take over on May 22, and they are currently assembling their leadership teams and preparing to implement their platform of ideas.
The spring theater performance will be in O’Laughlin Auditorium next weekend. We have to observe our pandemic protocols, but students will perform in “Hope Springs”—a musical cabaret of uplifting songs from the history of musical theater, which is such a welcome concept for this moment we’re in! I just might be joining in that performance . . .
And, of course, this is the season of senior comprehensives, when many of our students make a public presentation of their culminating work. Last week I stopped by the art gallery to view the provocative work of three graduating seniors. On Saturday evening, I was with a good-sized crowd to hear the research presentation and vocal performance of a senior music major. Over the next few weeks, I hope to get a taste of the crowning achievements of other members of the Class of 2021 who study in a variety of disciplines.
Part of what we are all savoring is that we have been so successful with our health and safety measures. Saint Mary’s students, faculty, and staff have been vigilant in keeping our protocols. We have had just 89 student COVID-19 cases so far this semester, and the numbers of positive cases have been dropping as vaccines have become available. In the month of April, Saint Mary’s has had just six student cases. Last week, we partnered with Meijer Pharmacy to host a very successful voluntary vaccine clinic for students, faculty and staff, Sisters of the Holy Cross employees, Holy Cross College students and employees, and several neighbor organizations. 1,036 people received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine! I’m grateful to the COVID leadership team and many Saint Mary’s volunteers who made the day such a success. The second shot will be administered here on May 7. We are all hoping that next year can feel more normal for our whole community, and that activities like those I’ve listed above can be undertaken without masking, distancing, and isolation.
Looking back on what I’ve just written here—all those vital activities!—I’m listening to a chorus of birds filling the air outside my office window. In National Poetry Month I can’t help but think of these lines from another wonder-filled poem (aptly titled “Song”), this one by Seamus Heaney:
There are the mud-flowers of dialect
And the immortelles of perfect pitch
And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens.
What happens, indeed. Spring has sprung!
Katie Conboy, Ph.D.