Leadership Kentucky 2018 in NKY & Graduation

Posted on: December 17, 2018
Tags: Leadership Kentucky

Leadership Kentucky 2018 in Northern Kentucky and Graduation

By: Burton Webb, Class of 2018. President, University of Pikeville

There was a dark thrum in the clouds over Northern Kentucky on the first day of lasts.

For many, travel to the eight municipalities that make up this unique and growing part of the Commonwealth was emblematic of the challenges and opportunities facing all of Kentucky. For some, there were good roads easily traversed at speed, while for others snow and ice were significant impediments. Indeed, listening to Brad Cooper speak was like recapping all of the best and worst that our seven-month journey has taught us in a 15-minute time capsule.

“We have great opportunities,” he said, “but, we are so divided into small cities and towns that it is more difficult to get things accomplished than it ought to be.” He continued, “We work together because we must, but something needs to change. We need leaders with bold vision who can call us together.” His point, so eloquently made in the local papers, is that it is time for the communities of Northern Kentucky to pull together into a larger municipality.

While his point is well made and some things, working at scale, are far more efficient; there were other places that caused me to wonder. Walking through the halls of the Ludlow school caused more than one person in our group to experience an overwhelming sweep of nostalgia. From the terrazzo flooring to the kiln-fired-not-quite-tan bricks, everything about Ludlow looked like a state-of-the-art school from the 1970s… and yet… from the technology in the classrooms to the decor in the hallways, everything paled when held to the intense love the administrators and teachers had for their students. It washed over everything. It reminded me of the reasons my grandparents and parents loved teaching. It reminded me of my own calling to the classroom, the smell of sharpened pencils, classroom paper, and the simple joy of a pile of papers after the grading is complete. There is something deeply satisfying about the craft and science of teaching that is hard to articulate with words and sentences. That same something was easy to feel inside the walls of Ludlow.

Of the many things we will miss about Leadership Kentucky, riding a school bus will not be among them. When Janice sat down in the seat across the aisle from me on our last ride through the streets of the northern Kentucky multi-town, she said, “You really don’t fit in these seats do you?” Understatement might be one of her strong points… those of us over six feet tall, especially, appreciate this last moment of compressed movement. However, bus rides have also given us moments of longitudinal comradery that we will remember well. We can all recall Jason, telling stories and laughing so loud Helen gave him “the look.,” and Robin taking bus-long selfies with her wonderful smile, down front and off-center. Fun, long, deep conversations happened on the buses that shuttled us around. We formed friendships there. Maybe, just maybe, the discomfort was nothing more than an investment in relationships, and for that, even a tall guy is grateful.

Northern Kentucky University is a beautiful campus that is worth visiting. Listening to the panel of presidents talk about their distinct challenges was like looking into a mirror, but it was the testimony of a young woman saved from a spiraling life of dependency that captured our hearts. The combination of her own tenacity and others’ helpful hands, reaching toward her at just the right moments, is etched on my memory. That same combination, faithfully applied, will forever save people born onto Red Team.

Looking back over our time together, it was the moments of powerful narratives that shaped us most. The death row inmates, the soldiers, and this week, the three young women at the children’s home. As they sat before us and told us about the abuse and neglect they had suffered, you may not have noticed, but they were holding onto each other for support. Though telling their stories has the power to free them from their own dark narratives, each telling comes at a cost. Physical presence, communicated by both proximity and touch, has incredible potential to heal. As far as they have come, each of those beautifully strong women has so much further to go. May the road ahead be filled with the trailblazers they need to continue the journey

If we have any hope in the future, it is carried in the hands of students like those we met at the Academies. There, the hum of life is curiosity, that crafter and sustainer of lifelong learning. More than the facilities, more than the presentations, and the confidence, it was the instilled curiosity of the students that impressed us most. As the world around us spins more rapidly with the passage of time, the future belongs, not to the prepared, but to the curious. Walking out that that day, I said an old English prayer, relayed so beautifully by Robert Browning: May your reach always exceed your grasp.

That, dear friends, is what I hope for each of you. As we step from our shared experience back into the days of our lives, may we continue to pursue learning with the same curiosity we saw at the academy, may we reach out to those around us who need help they cannot even articulate, may we grow to meet the challenges of our fading and changing economies, and more than anything, may we remember those days we walked, and ate, and drank together under the setting sun of Leadership Kentucky.

Striving to serve,

Burton Webb

 

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