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A special message from retiring Provost Belinda Wholeben

08/03/2017 3:34 pm

*President Fulcomer and Board of Trustees Chair Jim Keeling with Dr. Belinda Wholeben at this year’s commencement ceremony.

A special message from retiring Provost Belinda Wholeben

Aug 3, 2017 | Catalyst | 1 comment

As I prepared to write my last newsletter article to the RU community, I reread my previous newsletters and several of the talks that I have given over the years. I discovered that hope was a recurring theme. I will say farewell by reworking (with slight modifications, deletions, and updates) a talk that I gave at the 2010 Baccalaureate ceremony. While this talk was directed to the graduating students, I believe that it has relevance in this time of my leaving. It is a message about hope.

Charles Richard Snyder, a social psychologist, developed a theory of hope that has three components: goals, pathways, and agency. These components involve the ability to conceptualize your goals, to develop pathways to achieve your goals, and to remain motivated (to have a sense of agency) so that you can follow pathways leading to your goals. Snyder and Lopez (2008) found that college students who maintain higher levels of academic hope experience a higher level of academic success. It was determined that students with high levels of hope may realize that there are multiple pathways to their specific goals, while students with low hope may become frustrated when a pathway is blocked because they fail to recognize alternate pathways. I believe that this study parallels my experience as an undergraduate. I had planned since I can remember that I was going to be a teacher. But, we have plans in more than one area of our lives. I fell in love at the end of my junior year and married earlier than planned when my boyfriend, who was a civil engineer, was transferred to the Chicago area.

I was the first in my family to go to college, so I was rather naïve about college policies and practices. I thought that with my strong GPA and memberships in the honors program and honors societies that any school would be glad to enroll me. I was in my final year with only a semester of classes and student teaching left. I was wrong. I was considered a risk for student teaching because I was too far along in my program and wouldn’t be taking enough courses at my new college. I applied to more than 20 colleges in the area, all of which rejected me. Finally, I met with a dean at a small liberal arts college who was willing to take a chance on me.

I graduated full of hopes and dreams only to find that in the early ’70s there were few jobs for elementary teachers. My planned pathway to becoming a teacher was blocked. So, I worked at a retail store selling tires (how unlike me) while I applied to every school district in the area, with no success. Through an unexpected move, I found myself in Savannah, Ga., where in November, there were still teaching jobs available.

I thrived in a challenging year as a sixth-grade teacher. Returning as planned to the Midwest the next year, I thought that surely there would be a job for me now, I had experience! Wrong again. I found that the door to a teaching job remained closed. Taking an alternate pathway, I found a position as a teacher’s aide. It took two years, but finally, through connections between my school district’s superintendent and the superintendent of a neighboring district, a first-grade teaching position was found for me.

The story goes on with high points, low points, and some surprising twists and turns during my eleven years of teaching and in my personal life. The point that I would like to make is that there was always hope. Executing a plan to meet my goals often came against seemingly insurmountable obstacles—no school would accept me, there were no jobs. But, when one pathway was blocked, I searched for an alternate route. I could have written Winston Churchill’s famous line, “Never, never give in.”

I didn’t achieve my plan alone. I achieved it through connections— connections with a dean willing to take a chance on me, a benevolent superintendent, and family and friends constant in their support of and belief in me. The 21-year-old, turned away many times at the door to college, never gave up hope. That hope was realized in a successful elementary teaching career and, now, retirement after 23 years at Rockford University.

I retire with new hopes—not just hope for my personal future, but also with hope for each of you on your professional and personal journeys, and, finally, hope for the future of this beloved university.

—Belinda Wholeben, Ed.D.
Professor Emerita of Psychology