Learning To Sail At Dalton State

I had a vague memory of words from someone wiser than me rattling around in my head for the past few months as we reimagined the college experience in this new environment. This phrase kept coming to the forefront of my mind especially after we reopened campus for face-to-face instruction: We cannot always control the winds or the storms in our lives, but we can adjust our sails.

One attribution of this idea is from Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who said in 2012, “We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.” His message continued to say “For maximum happiness, peace and contentment, may we choose a positive attitude.”

This was not where I remembered originally hearing this mantra, but I like his wording, and it gave me pause.

Adjusting our sails is a concept we can all relate to right now as we realize we must find a way to move forward even while this novel virus continues to dominate our lives.

We were so grateful – and relieved – to welcome our Roadrunner family back to campus on Aug. 10 after functioning remotely since March 13. A lot is different. This may be the first year we don’t hear complaints about parking on campus. Our parking lots are not overflowing because we have structured ourselves to limit the number of people on campus at a given time. Many of our students have chosen exclusively online classes for this semester or are coming to campus only one or two days each week. Many of our employees are still working at least some of their hours remotely. We are still holding virtual meetings and events as often as is possible. For those of us who are on campus regularly, it is not like a typical fall day at Dalton State.

We have all adjusted our sails. We have found a new way of working and learning that will hopefully reduce our risks of spreading the virus throughout our campus community.

This new way of being together can be awkward and unfamiliar. We frequently have to speak to others from a distance and through a mask. We gently remind each other when we see someone forget our new best practices for social engagement.

We greet each other with a renewed enthusiasm when we have the opportunity to see each other in person for the first time in months, eyes crinkling indicating a broad smile beneath the masks, resisting the urge to shake hands or hug each other. So far, our efforts are working.

Our campus has not seen many positive COVID-19 cases. I hope I can say this again at the end of November when we dismiss for winter break.

Our students and employees have adjusted their sails. We prepared many plans, policies and guidelines, but all of that is meaningless unless everyone engages in these safe practices. Our plan is working because our employees and students have stepped up and agreed to do all we can to stay together in person. 

We can distance ourselves and wear face coverings when we are not alone indoors, and we can learn new technology so we can engage virtually with each other, but the last piece of Monson’s advice is the most difficult: “For maximum happiness, peace, and contentment, may we choose a positive attitude.” I’m working on that.

None of us asked for this novel coronavirus pandemic. No one was  fully prepared for it. We are weary. We are emotionally exhausted from worrying about ourselves and each other. We are tired of being unable to travel or attend social gatherings, and we are fed up with wearing these masks. We are lonely and bored after months of living alone, missing family and friends, or we are tired of living with and talking to the same few people every day. Because of our general frustration with the conditions we find ourselves in right now, we get annoyed at not finding all the items we need at the grocery store, not being able to understand a clerk speaking to us through a mask or the person ignoring the markings on the floor to keep us at least six feet apart. These trivial things can push us to vent our anger. But voicing our irritation may only increase the level of anxiety and negativity around ourselves.

Adjusting the way we see the world and all that seems to be happening is the hardest task. But that is one of the most essential tasks for moving forward. We cannot thrive without a positive attitude. Every day, I remind myself that my mood is a choice, and I remind myself to choose contentment if I cannot find happiness. I am finding reasons to be glad, and when people seem to behave unreasonably rudely, I remind myself all they are likely enduring, and I try to give them some grace. This is not to invalidate our feelings. It is understandable and expected to be frustrated and sad. But we must acknowledge those emotions and let them go.

The quote I had been searching for when I discovered Monson’s is by Louisa May Alcott, author of the classic “Little Women.” She said, “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship.”

We are all learning to manage this turbulent time. We will be stronger and more experienced in the end.

We teach our students many things at Dalton State including facts, analytical reasoning, time management, effective communication and many others. But more than any facts or skills, I hope we teach our students how to persevere, even during a global pandemic, and to do it gracefully. We know our students will succeed in their lives after Dalton State, whatever careers they choose. We know wherever life takes them, they can persist through challenging times. If we must live through this difficult time, I am most grateful to be experiencing it with my colleagues, students and friends of Dalton State.