Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Living with a Skunk

If a recent well-known author learned a lot from his kindergarten experience I suppose that I’m learning equally from watching quietly my own backyard. Now that the light stays later I’ve been trying to rush home to find some contemplative moments (oxymoronic irony noted).

At dusk I’m often sitting or standing at the edge of my garden in a semi-meditative state reviewing the day’s events when a neighborhood skunk waddles by. Skunks, when non-rabid, seem largely oblivious, going about some unknown evening task, sometimes ambling under my outstretched legs unheeding of the much larger mammal that could pounce in an instant and wreck its twilight idyll. When finally the skunk sees me, she? he? (I couldn’t say) hides cautiously under the deck stairs, finally pokes its nose out, and then on unnaturally short legs scurries away. Even more curious, I’ve several times seen Ms. or Mr. Skunk slinking under the hedges towards my neighbor’s two black cats who don’t arch or hiss or growl but stroll idly by as the intruder shuffles into their territory. Three species watching, learning in mutual co-existence with no struggle, no threats, and no stinking mess at the end. There’s got to be a university metaphor here but I refuse to search for it.

Instead, I’ll turn to the last ten days of exciting events. The wrap-up of Reel Rasquache was a sensation. If only there had been an East LA Society Page present…Edward James Olmos, Esai Morales, Lupe Ontiveros, Jesus TreviƱo y otros were present to pay tribute to Zoot Suit legend Luis Valdez. Earlier that day graduating vocal senior Josh Diener had given a rousing recital and in between I almost finished this year’s faculty reviews so my mood was grand. And luncheons, we had luncheons! Monday, the university scholarship donors and recipients, Tuesday high school and community college counselors. I say at Honor’s Convocation that “It takes a village to make the Dean’s List.” It also takes a village to get our students to the university and I’m very thankful that individual donors and hard-working staff support students at every step. This next week…on to the Scholar-Athletes’ banquet!

And speaking of villages…this week I also visited Urinetown. Several faculty, staff, former staff, students, and former students told me that they were THRILLED at the production, the quality of student performance, and the audience, the Audience, and the AUDIENCE. Hey kids, we put on a SHOW! After a long hiatus of musicals, Cal State LA is coming back strong. Look for next year’s schedule soon.

On Memorial Day, after thinking of all the flags I have planted as a Boy Scout at Punchbowl National Cemetery (Oahu), I met the Fulbright staff and future fellow Fulbrighters in a Koreatown restaurant before the opening of the NAFSA international Educators Association conference. That’s right, this June immediately following commencement I’m off on a plane to Seoul to participate in the US-Korea International Education Administrators Program fulfilling a lifetime dream to become a Fulbright Scholar and proudly joining Arts and Letters Professors. Mohammed Auwal (Qatar) and Susan Mason (Japan) who will be returning from their respective Fulbright experiences this summer. Over a Korean BBQ lunch at So Hyang restaurant we mapped out our upcoming visit and the all-important gift giving strategy. I have the right shoes for the trip (for rain, dancing, the DMZ) but mustn’t forget the umbrella.

This report ends with an uplifting event having nothing to do with skunks or Urinetown. Muhammad Yunus , economist, professor, businessman, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate served as NAFSA’s opening plenary speaker. Many of the Dancing Dean’s readers may not know that I was an Economics-Political Science undergrad before turning to literary studies and I idolize Dr. Yunus’s creativity in creating microlending programs that have raised millions out of poverty. Dr. Yunus was perhaps an indirect inspiration for the QuinceaƱera Project that I created several years ago to give scholarships to young Latinas to steer them towards university education before marriage. I was misty-eyed during Yunus’s uplifting talk, feeling that I was in the presence of a Mahatma, a great soul, one who has written that: “All human beings have the inner capacity not only to care for themselves but also to contribute to increasing the well-being of the world as a whole. Some get the chance to explore their potential to some degree, but many others never get any opportunity, during their lifetime, to unwrap the wonderful gift they were born with.” (Creating a World Without Poverty, 247).

Unless you’re a skunk, please unwrap your gift now!