Chris Gray, Ph.D.

Founding President, Erie County Community College

The darkest day of the year is just about the corner, and the holidays are all but upon us. The next couple of days are the darkest and busiest time of the year in the northern hemisphere.  Between religious and secular celebrations and observances, there are more than a dozen holidays celebrated during December and another half dozen in January. Amidst all the hustle and bustle, however, this time of year also invites us to slow down and savor the season. For many of us, this is a time to travel; for others, it’s a time to see family. Here at EC3, we are winding up another semester, and our students have just gotten their final grades. They worked so hard, and it was good to see them progress yet again!

This week is our last week of work for 2023 here at EC3, and the halls seem quiet without the students here. Academically speaking, this is traditionally a time of slowness here on campus.  Slowness in modern America is often seen as something to be avoided — an indication, if you will, that we are slacking off and should be doing something. We live in a fast-paced world where everything seems to be moving at breakneck speed. Instant gratification has become the norm, and we are constantly bombarded with information and distractions. We are always GO! GO! GO! I’m going to blame our good old Puritan work ethic here; our culture prizes busy-ness and robustly condemns sloth. However, there is beauty in slowness and a certain wisdom that comes with it.

When we slow down, we give ourselves the opportunity to truly appreciate and savor the present moment. We become more aware of our surroundings, of the small details that we often overlook in our rush to get things done. The gentle pace allows us to connect with our thoughts and our people. Slowness enables us to be fully present in ways that are just unavailable when we are running around from one thing to the next. These past few days here at EC3 have seen more and more slowness, and our students, faculty, and staff need the respite. We all have earned the downtime that is coming our way.

Students have worked so hard in their classes, and they need the time between semesters to recover from the mental drain that college-level work entails. That said, we are offering a Winter Session this year, an abbreviated semester running for just under a month, that will allow some students to knock out a few credits. That session moves at lightning speed and is just half the length of a traditional EC3 course, but it’s important to offer it to students who need it. Even students taking a Winter Session course will enjoy almost three weeks off, however, which is critical to set them up for success. Even with work, family responsibilities, travel, and other holiday-related activities, being able to rest the mind is pivotal. I hope that our students get to enjoy some much-deserved and needed slowness.

My title mentions slowness and light, and they go together quite well, actually. As we move through the darkest and shortest day of the year, we then move past the winter solstice as the light begins to return. The days grow incrementally longer starting this weekend, and we begin the steady march toward spring. Of course, the coming of the light, metaphorically, signifies the emergence of hope, enlightenment, and understanding. It represents a new beginning, a fresh perspective that can only be gained through introspection and self-reflection. Janus, the two-faced Roman god of beginnings, looks both backward and forward; he looks both at the year that has passed and forward to the year ahead. As January inches closer, I’m hoping that indulging in some slowness allows us to shed the layers of stress, anxiety, and worry that we have been carrying. The light is coming, just as it has for time immemorial.

As I wrap up the blog for 2023, my hope is that you are able to embrace slowness and welcome the coming of the light. Allow yourself to step away from the demands of the world and find solace in the quiet moments. Embrace the stillness, for it is fleeting. Before we know it, another semester will be here, with its own brand of joy and excitement. Busy-ness will return, but for now, we rest. 

I wish you and your families the happiest of holidays!