Graduation and Transitions

It is spring and that means it is time for graduation! I wrote a short piece for the State College paper, The Centre Daily Times, on preparing for transitions. Change happens, we cannot stop it, but how we cope with these transitions can shape and mold our lives. So be aware that the change is coming (not just the festivities that surround it), embrace it and your loved ones, and live into the new reality that is post-graduation.

April 23, 2016

“In like a lion, out like a lamb.”

“April showers bring May flowers.”

Spring is a time of dramatic changes in weather, the cold hard earth softening and bringing forth new life … and endless clichés. Spring is not only the time of nature’s rebirth, it is also graduation season. As someone who has given scores of commencement speeches I can attest that avoiding clichés is nigh on impossible (so I tend to embrace them). We resort to them because they contain fundamental truths; graduating from high school or college is both an ending and a beginning, it is the next step on a lifelong journey. In short, it is a time of transition.

We know that they are a part of life, we face them all the time, and so we tend to assume that we can just roll right through, just another event in a life full of events. Or we allow ourselves to get too wrapped up in the moments of the event. Whether we look past the graduation or focus upon the minute details, we fail to contemplate and appreciate what the event signifies and the effect this change will have on our lives, parents and graduates alike.

Graduation is an opportunity to celebrate not simply the past accomplishments of our students, but their future as well. For many parents our child’s future success involves a very real diminishment in our direct role in their lives. We will never cease to be their parents, but now they must stand on their own. That may be scary for them and a point of grief for us. And that is OK.

So embrace your graduates and the uncertainty that this latest transition brings, because the brightest spring begins in the bitterest of winters — and today the sun is shining.

Honors College is a Gateway and Incubator for ALL Students

The following is an essay I wrote this fall for publication on The editor of that site reviews honors colleges and programs and the SHC was one of only seven to receive a five mortarboard rating in A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs. Time has passed so I am now happy to be able to post it on our blog!

“Honors programs and colleges are each as distinctive and unique as the college or university of which they are a part.” This is how I begin every presentation I make to prospective students and their parents. There is no one set definition of what an honors program is, other than that all programs have the general goal of enhancing and enriching a student’s academic experience. The mission, vision, character, nature, and experience of each program or college will vary widely even as they all achieve that single goal.

I have had the great pleasure to be the director Tulane University’s Honors Program and I am now in my tenth year as dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University. I have also been a part of and led reviews of numerous other honors programs and colleges around the country. This combination of intimate working experience and the opportunity to survey the national landscape has led me to the personal conviction that honors education should be built upon two pillars resulting in an “osmotic incubator.”


“Accessibility,” “permeability,” and “leaven” are all terms I have used to describe this attribute. I remained a pre-med student long enough to know that “osmosis” is the process by which molecules can pass through a membrane from one region to another. Honors education may be thought of in these terms, to a certain extent, taking in students at different stages while at the same time the college should be making contributions to the rest of the university. Continue reading “Honors College is a Gateway and Incubator for ALL Students”

This I Believe

I was invited to contribute an essay for our local NPR station’s “This I Believe.” This essay is apart of a yearlong project on grieving called “Learning to Live: What’s Your Story?”  The audio can be found here and the essay is below.

We all believe many different things over the course of our lives and our beliefs shift; much as the relentless waves alter the contours of the shore, new experiences cause us to grow and adapt.

A few years ago I wrote a “This I Believe” essay about the importance of honor, of doing what is right at all times. I continue to hold that belief, but in the last few years I’ve also realized the value and importance of expressing loss.

I believe in the necessary and restorative power of grief.

On New Year’s Eve 2012 our son Mack died of sepsis, an uncontrollable blood infection that took his life in a matter of hours. While I had spent more than a decade in the academic and theological study of Jewish and Christian responses to loss, nothing could prepare me for the loss of my child. Shortly after Mack died our friend shared a slim volume on grief by Granger Westberg. It is called “Good Grief” and in it Westberg points out that we grieve all sorts of things in our lives, big and small.

We recognize and understand that when someone we love dies, we will grieve. We mourn the fact that they will no longer be in our lives. Those around us will often recognize that we are grieving, offering us support and the emotional space to express our feelings of loss. But we often do not realize that we grieve all sorts of “little things” as well.

Shortly after Mack died, a student met with me to discuss her academic future. She said, “I’m sorry to bother you Dean Brady. My changing majors is nothing compared with you and your wife losing your son.” Of course they are different categories of loss, but as I told the student, for her, at that point in her life, this was a major loss and change. She had always intended to be a physician and realizing this was not her future was truly heart breaking for her. She was grieving the loss of that intended future, just as we grieved the future we had dreamed of for our son.

In the Penn State community there are many who still grieve the events that followed the disclosure in 2011 that a Penn State football coach had sexually molested young boys. In talking with members of our Penn State community, I realized that, although few acknowledged it, we were, each in our own way, grieving. We were grieving for those young boys and the scars they carry, we were grieving that memories of past football victories would now be tarnished, we were grieving our own loss of innocence.

We all grieve and we grieve all sorts of things. I believe grief is healing. If we embrace it, its waters, which feel like they might drown us, will purify us instead.

The Land-Grant University of the 21st Century

Over the last year as our college and university engaged in developing our next strategic plan I have thought a lot about what it means to be a “land-grant university” in today’s world. Then I was invited to provide the keynote address to the annual meeting of the National Agricultural Alumni and Development Association. The theme of their conference was “Creativity Starts Here.”  This essay has grown out of my remarks that evening and as such has particular reference to agriculture and its concerns.

Creating the Future We Want

Although I didn’t know it, my introduction to land-grant colleges and universities came when I was just 6 years old, tagging along with my brother to the Cooperative Extension office in Gaithersburg, MD to learn how to make bread. 4-H became a part of my life even before I was old enough to officially join. I did demonstration and informative speeches, canned goods, learned photography (still a passion of mine), kept rabbits and sheep, judged consumer goods and poultry. (I even stole my first few kisses while in 4-H and my brother found his wife at 4-H camp, as had our grandfather.) While my academic background may give the impression that I have never been anything other than a bookworm and having grown up outside of DC might suggest I am simply a typical suburbanite, the experiences I had through 4-H, FFA, and our county fair have been deeply formative in my life.

I loved that the school I went to, Cornell University, was the only Ivy League school that was also a land-grant university and when I arrived here at Penn State in 2006 the first thing I did was ask to see the poultry barns. On my short 4 miles to work I pass horses, experimental fields, poultry, dairy, swine, turf grass and meat science buildings. “Green Acres is the place for me (Farm livin’ is the life for me!).”

Back to our Roots

We all know the history. Our institutions, both collegiate and collegial, are founded upon the basic premise that our society needed to provide “a broad segment of the population with a practical education that had direct relevance to their daily lives.”[1] All of this, I might add given my own academic background, without “excluding other scientific and classical studies.”[2]

There are many today who question the very viability of public universities in today’s world and the reduction in state funding brings doubt as to the relationship between the words “State” and “University.” But I believe strongly that there is a future for a land grant institution in the 21st century, but we must reimagine what that means in this new era. I think this can best be done by remaining focused upon this original mission, even if the nation and the states and commonwealths allow their own support to wane. Continue reading “The Land-Grant University of the 21st Century”

You can’t get there from here: The importance of travel

TL;DR: Traveling and study abroad is a life changing experience. 

My freshman roommate and I were not that different, on the surface. Both white males from suburban school districts (he Chicago-land, I DC Metro) and living in a typical first year residence. I quickly realized we had little in common in terms of social lives and mores. I spent my summers coaching swimming and managing a pool while he followed the Grateful Dead around the country. A “good guy” by everyone’s account, it wasn’t a situation I was happy with and moved rooms over the winter break.

In my new suite I met people who were again quite different. One student, a Navy ROTC cadet, was taking Swahili, believed that he was an African in a prior life, and became the first white man to pledge the African American fraternity Omega Psi Phi. Another was a Chinese-born man from New York City. He and his wife remain two of my closest friends to this day. Through Kai, I encountered worlds and traditions that I never would have experienced otherwise.

These are the sorts of experiences we talk about when we say that college will help expand a student’s “world view.” Even without leaving their home state, they can get a glimpse of the world through another person’s eyes and experience. That is always enlightening but it takes intentionality; we need to reflect on those encounters and relationships in order to learn from them.  Continue reading “You can’t get there from here: The importance of travel”

Education is about the Future – Shaping the Future Summit 2014

Today the Centre Daily Times began a series of editorials to promote our inaugural “Shaping the Future Summit.” My piece is intended to set the tone and build interest and excitement in our upcoming summit. Check out all the exciting events culimatinating with our keynote speaker, Dr. Peter Diamandis:

This year, April 1st is no joke! Come to the Summit!


Education is about the future.

This should be fairly obvious and it often is, especially when we consider the so-called STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. My colleagues in these fields are seeking solutions to challenges we face today in an effort to make our future more secure, healthier and equitable. But even those of us who study the past often do so with an eye toward a better understanding of the present and informing the future. Education, however, is far more than research and discovery. It is about forming, guiding and empowering our students. They are the embodiment of our future; they are our future.

Continue reading “Education is about the Future – Shaping the Future Summit 2014”

Honors Education at Research Universities 2013 Keynote

HERU 2013 – Keynote Address

Welcome to the inaugural Honors Education at Research University conference! It is a great pleasure to have you all here at Penn State. Gathered are nearly 100 representatives of 28 schools from around the nation and the world, including our colleagues from the Netherlands and the universities of Radboud and Utrecht.

I would be remiss if I did not begin our event by thanking those who have made this possible. While the idea of such a meeting arose within the annual meeting of the so-called CIC schools (the Big 10 plus Chicago), the planning committee included representatives of other schools as well. Would those on the committee please stand as I call your names?

Continue reading “Honors Education at Research Universities 2013 Keynote”

Social Media Split Personalities? – Chronicle of Higher Ed

This weekend an article came out in the Chronicle of Higher Education about academics and academic units with multiple online “identities.” I was interviewed along with several others, but for some reason I was the only one of whom they took silly pictures.

It is a very good article on a topic that really is a challenge for everyone, not just institutions. Everyone needs to ask themselves, what does my facebook/twitter/blog say about myself. If you are happy with the answer then you don’t have anything to worry about.

Academics and Colleges Split Their Personalities for Social Media

By Jeffrey R. Young

Christian Brady, an associate professor of classics and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Pennsylvania State University, has created two Twitter accounts, one for personal comments and research (@targuman), and the other for his role as dean (@shcdean).

Chronicle of Higher Education

@targuman: Modern catechism? “Wireless as a common good.” @shcdean: If you are an SHC student or alumnus in the DC area this summer can you let me know? I would like to get a dinner together in mid June.
@targuman:David Letterman is the best and most underrated interviewer on TV. Interviewing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. @shcdean: I want to assure you all that the new, gorgeous softball stadium Beard Field is named after a wonderful PSU supporter and not my chin hairs.
@targuman:Currently listening to the gutters finally being repaired (fell off in January!). Every clunk and thud makes me think $$. @shcdean: Students: assuming funding, why wouldn’t you want to study abroad for a full year? Admits are telling me you are afraid to disconnect.

‘It’s Not Schizophrenic’

Christian Brady, an associate professor of classics and ancient Mediterranean studies and Jewish studies at Pennsylvania State University, has split his social-media identity, as Ms. Feal does. “It’s not schizophrenic and it’s not to hide anything,” he said. Both of his Twitter feeds are public, and he expects that someone who searches for his name on Google will quickly find both his personal feed, @targuman, and the one he uses for his role as dean of the university’s Schreyer Honors College, @shcdean.

Deciding which account to post to is a matter of considering his audience, he says. Those looking to hear from the honors-college dean may have no interest in his research into Targums (ancient Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible), or in his collection of comic books. “I wouldn’t call them multiple identities, but views or perspectives on yourself,” is how he puts it.

Though Facebook was born only a few years ago, Mr. Brady says scholars have long made adjustments in their public personae: “If you’re writing an op-ed piece for the local newspaper, you’re going to use a different tone than if you’re writing for a journal in your discipline.”

Don’t Be Creepy

Some professors use only one Facebook page but wrestle with how open to make that information. One of the most-discussed questions about social networking on campuses is whether or not professors should “friend” their students on Facebook. Mr. Brady’s policy on the issue is one I’ve heard from many professors: He will accept a friend request from any student, but he never makes the first move. “I think it’s a little creepy when the old guy asks his students, Will you be my friend?,” he told me.