This is my last column. I am retiring from the University of Maine System at the end of this month, and it is time to move on to other things.

Ever since 2007, when Naomi Schalit, then editorial page editor, asked me to do this column, I have shared thoughts and recipes and reminiscences, all (mostly) centered around education. I don’t know why Naomi asked me. We had barely met. No doubt she had her sources — you know, being in the news business. However, I am grateful to her, and to all the editorial staff and others at the paper who have asked me to keep writing since then, who picked out the headlines and once in awhile found special graphics to adorn my space.

And especially I am grateful to my readers, who have not only read what I wrote, but have sometimes written back. I’ve enjoyed many reminiscences that mine inspired. I’ve had several lively exchanges with folks who disagreed with me. At least a couple of friends from my childhood have re-connected, and one nice man even took me out to lunch recently. Plus, when I am out and about, I run into folks who tell me that they like what I’ve written, too.

So the column has made me feel connected to Maine people, especially those in western and central Maine, in a way that I would not otherwise have experienced.

In fact, the connection to Maine people and places has been one of the things I have most enjoyed about my 21 years (so far) in this state. Small-town life when you are the university president is a life-changing experience.

For one thing, you can’t go anywhere anonymously. And I do mean anywhere. One time I was in Lourdes, France, on a bike trip — dressed in bike shorts, a loud shirt and a helmet — when a nice young woman followed me around a bike shop and finally got up her courage to ask me, “Aren’t you the president of UMF?” I think she was on her honeymoon — we ended up sending a picture back to the UMF alumni magazine.


The connection goes both ways, of course. One of the reasons I have spent more time over the years working on campus and community connections is that community members demanded it. My very first speech in Farmington at Rotary set the pattern. I think I started out with some highfalutin’ generalizations about the future role of UMF. The audience didn’t let me get out of there until they told me exactly what they wanted, and when they wanted it — now. Thank goodness I listened. It was the beginning of a fruitful partnership.

It’s now up to the University of Maine System to move on with strengthening community connections at all campus locations. I discovered this year that every campus already has developed many partnerships to serve students and the wider communities. But everyone can do better, and I have made some recommendations for improvement.

I figure that the system has done pretty well with the two things I have handed over to them so far, so I’m hopeful about the next one.

As far as education is concerned, my last word is this: The relationship between teacher and student is the key to success. Whether it’s reading, drawing, doing community projects, studying science or math, or learning a sport or a musical instrument, at any level from pre-school through college, the student-teacher relationship is key. Both students and teachers have vital roles to play. All the rest is commentary.

What am I moving on to? Darned if I know. I suspect some grandchild care will be involved. There will be rowing along the coast near Scarborough Marsh, which will be a new location for me.

And then? I’ve been discovering, especially the last few years, that the universe keeps sending us messages about opportunities for growth and change. Paying attention is required. One of my favorite signs is the one outside the Old South Church in Farmington: “God is still speaking.”

Or as those of us less inclined to invoke the Deity might put it, “Just shut up and listen.” Quieting the mind in order to hear more clearly is a project in itself. I will be working on it.

Theodora Kalikow has written a column for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel since 2007.

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