President Showalter offers look into “What It’s Like to Be the Boss” during opening address

GOSHEN, Ind. — “It could very well be that someone in this audience today is going to stand at this podium someday, either as president here or in some other organization,” Goshen College President Shirley H. Showalter said during her Jan. 9 spring semester opening address to campus, “What It’s Like to Be the Boss.”

To illustrate her point, Showalter then held up a class photo dating from the 1950s that was reprinted around 30 years later in a humor issue of the Goshen College Bulletin. Included in the photo was then Professor of Bible and Philosophy J. Lawrence Burkholder. Above his head a cartoon balloon was placed with the words, “Some day this will all be mine!” Burkholder later served as Goshen College’s 11th president.

Speaking specifically to the students in the audience, Showalter said, “If you think it will not be you, I can find scores of alumni who never imagined that some day they would be the boss, but the boss is what they became.” Showalter herself taught at Goshen College in the English department from 1976 until her inauguration as president in 1997.

“The journey toward becoming the boss of anything begins inside you,” Showalter said. “And because God created all of us to be unique, no single journey will be like another. What it will be is a true odyssey, full of temptations, triumphs and failures.”

Showalter’s advice to students to begin this journey was to not worry about becoming the boss, but instead “concern yourself with becoming a good follower and servant”; to find a mentor; to plunge into the liberal arts and “love learning passionately and purely”; and to gain much practical experience.

She described being the boss with a list of paradoxical pairs that “are often true simultaneously”: exhilarating and exhausting, humbling and harrowing, freeing and fettering.

A tolerance for ambiguity and complexity is essential to be the boss, Showalter said. “If the boss is at all open to learning — and all good bosses must be — that is one of the deepest lessons one learns,” she said. “The experience of leading is ‘nada y todo‘ — nothing and all. It is like being a follower but with higher highs and lower lows. It is like all the things one has ever done in life individually and like all of them happening at once.”

But, Showalter said, the greatest paradox is that “It’s not about the boss at all,” and “It’s all about the boss.”

“The secret, I think, is distinguishing between [what is] a healthy interest in our own lives and [what is] an egocentric, potentially abusive, interest in forcing others to pay attention to us,” she said. “When I keep my eyes and ears on Christ, when I am a compassionate peacemaker, a passionate learner, a global citizen, and a servant leader — when I am living inside the story of our core values — I forget about myself and yet that is when I become most fully unique.”

“What is it like to be the boss? Words are so inadequate, both to the experience as it is and to the great desire that it be more like the model, Christ,” Showalter said. “And so I do not end with more words today. Instead, I ask you to help me to be a better boss and help yourself be a better boss in your own life.”

Showalter closed her address by washing the feet of senior Anna Groff of Lancaster, Pa. “I am going to do what I first learned to do as a teenager growing up in Lititz (Pa.) Mennonite Church,” Showalter said. “I still remember vividly washing the feet of sisters in the congregation. Sometimes I was asked by an older woman — one of the leaders I admired — to be her partner. Neither she nor I were aware of how the simple act of footwashing would influence our future lives. By taking Jesus’ words literally, we took them into our bodies for whatever wisdom the original Boss with a capital B has to teach us. É No one was boss. Everyone was boss. It was a glimpse of truth, a preparation for the time in which people from every tribe and nation will gather around the throne and dance before the Lamb, the Prince of Peace.”

Goshen College, established in 1894, is a four-year residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values — passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership — prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, Kaplan’s “Most Interesting Colleges” guide and U.S.News & World Report‘s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit http://www.goshen.edu/.

Editors: For more information, contact Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or jodihb@goshen.edu.

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