What’s Your SMU Aha! Moment?

Faith and frost on a crisp, March morning.

Faith and frost on a crisp, March morning.

This morning as I motored onto campus I was once again moved by the beauty of our little 380 acres. The canopy of trees on Abbey Way opened to pre-sunned fields, crunch-covered with frost. The water ponds on the left, still hazy, steam rising. Red-winged blackbirds standing tall on threads of grasses, defying physics. As I got out of the car the air kissed my face with that yummy chill that comes on early mornings when the temperatures are low, the skies are blue, the sun is up — though not quite — and some mystical force makes the edges of everything a little more distinct.

I was reminded of the first time I drove up Abbey Way in 2012 for my job interview. It was the first of April and we had a freak snow storm. My interview was at 8 a.m. and being all ya-gotta-do-this-and-ya-gotta-do-that-if-you-wanna-make-an-impression, I arrived at about 7:30. Crossing College Street, hustle and bustle dissolved. I plunged into stillness, spaciousness. The snowflakes were wet and heavy, falling lazily to the ground, stitching an elegant, alabaster quilt over the entire landscape. Reflexively, my foot came off the gas. My shoulders slackened. My brow softened. Everything slowed.

That was my SMU Aha! Moment. The moment when you realize you’ve landed someplace wondrous. Is it the sight of Old Main on the hill? The way the monks have tended the land? The trees surrounding us? There’s no doubt about it. There is something special about Saint Martin’s. This place. Perhaps it’s the way the sunlight breaks onto the fields. Or the fact that for 100 years our monks have lived here, worked here, died here and are buried here. Is the very soil infused with something that makes it easier for us to touch the tender parts of ourselves?

As we spent time with our stakeholders, and OHO, in January, it became clear to Carl and me that there was something, some other thing, that makes us sit up and take notice — this is part of what OHO is helping us to define. For the OHO folks it was standing on the balcony of Cebula, looking across campus and saying, “It’s just right.”

For Carl, it was when he was coming for an interview. “When I was initially hired to consult with Saint Martin’s (1999) I got lost trying to find the campus although I had lived in the area for six years. A hidden treasure? Once I called and got directions (I was only a few blocks away) and drove onto Abbey Way I was presented with tree-lined drives throughout campus. At that time, I thought, ‘I get to work here?'”

For Sarah Holdener it was about a year into working at Saint Martin’s. “I headed down to St. Gertrude’s for lunch and as I wandered through the café and the seating area, I recall saying hello to everyone there… because I knew them all. I was overcome with a sense of community that day. I love that I know practically everyone on campus. It paves a smooth road for collaboration.”

It seems that everyone has an SMU Aha! Moment. People walk this campus and instantly know that this is where they need to be. Students and their parents. Faculty and staff. Our local community. It’s elusive. It’s a mystery. But it’s here. And it’s why we’re here.

Do  you have an SMU Aha! Moment? Share it with the community by leaving a comment below.


  1. My SMU Aha! Moment. It happens daily. Not only do we have a beautiful campus and a community full of wonderful people, but almost every day from my short walk from the parking lot to my office, I can always rely on a friendly face to say “good morning” or “have a nice day”. Whether it be a staff member from facilities who’s making the campus shine, a student walking to their 8 a.m. class or a monk who stops to ask you about life or just wants to say “hi” and gives you a hug. Thank you to everyone in our Saint Martin’s community who make coming to work a joy instead of just a job. #grateful

  2. My a-ha moment came during my job interview in 2013. Sarah Holdener and Jennifer Fellinger were firing questions at me — and I was having a great time firing back answers. I thought, “I am actually having FUN during a job interview! I like these women! I want to work with them!”

    That sentiment quickly spread to the rest of the wondrous MarCom team, as well as throughout the rest of the campus community. The people who work here genuinely care about the place and their role in helping to expand the great possibilities Saint Martin’s possesses. The people who work here also know how to extend a welcoming hand of friendship.

    The gorgeous, giant trees that envelop the campus are surely the icing on the cake!

  3. I had a student who spent his youth getting drunk in alleys instead of going to school. Somehow he found a program that eventually led him to Saint Martin’s, where he discovered enough of the treasure inside him to earn his bachelor’s degree. The night before his graduation he sang in a concert with some of his friends. His voice was strong and his manner confident. It was like there were waves of light coming off him. After the show, we sat together and I offered my congratulations and told him how wonderful it was to see how far he’d come. When I said this, he started to sob. We sat until his sobbing abated, then I asked why he was crying. He turned to me and through his tears said, “I’m so happy!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s