Closing a College: An Unplanned BreakAway

Posted on: Wednesday, May 1st, 2013
Posted in: SoulTrain, Blog | 7 comments

photoThe unusually cold May-Day skies were crying today—the last day I had the pleasure of teaching at College of Visual Arts (CVA).

After 89 years, this St. Paul arts school on historic Summit Avenue is shutting its doors. The grand mansion that has educated thousands of young artists has run out of time.

Life happens. And sh*t happens (never mind that I preach to my classes to avoid unsavory language in their college writing). Scores of students who thought they had their college career mapped out now face what makeyourbreakaway calls the Unplanned Career Break.

  • Get outta here

It happens all the time. Folks get fired. Others face layoffs. Spouses flee. Families lose homes or must suddenly move away with little or no notice. Usually, such bombshells bring nasty ramifications, and some are just plain tragic.

But sometimes, a gnarly twist of fate can spiral into a hopeful destiny. After a semester of angst, all my students are either graduating or moving on to other colleges—new worlds of possibilities and promise. They’re too smart, too creative, and too resilient to let bad news stop their progress for long.

Heck, when I got fired once, I took the summer off. That summer became seven months long and was graced with sunshine, lake time, family and friends—and freedom from relentless stress that had been hitting 11 on the intense-ometer. That experience became my first Career Break, and the start of a paradigm shift of how I’d like to live and work. How I’d like to spend my time.

Soon after that unplanned Sabbatical came a new life partner, home, and career. Life since has been bursting with blessings, yet never without rude surprises. Sh*t still happens. Yet wonders always await. We can’t control which one shows up next.

  • The only constant is change

When the news of CVA’s closing hit the streets, a sizeable community of teachers, students, staff, alumni, and supporters went into collective shock. The Powers That Be had concocted their scheme in absolute secret. Soon came the rage, the rallies, and an impressive attempt to save the school. But, no.

There are always more tears, I’ve been told. Some soon-to-be unemployeds are rightfully fretful. And some stakeholders are still raw with anger. But that’s not what I saw in my classroom today.

Students grinned, jotted me thank you notes, shook my hand, and told me to stay in touch. When I asked them about their plans for the summer, talents, and future education, each one offered a confident answer. They took their last test with focus and ease, and nary a hint of cheating. They posed for pictures in the hallway and lingered as if fully mindful that this is the final finals—that they are living history.

Indeed, it’s been like watching a surreal movie, I’ve been saying since the first scene—in which the faculty meeting that normally kicks off the semester morphed into a tense presentation by strangers in suits about “fiscal failure,” a “teachout” with a competing arts school, and “winding down assets.”

But it’s not a movie; you can’t make this stuff up. It just happens. Fortunately, there is no end to this story.

  • To be continued…

That’s why the seniors chose for their theme, “To be continued…”  The senior gallery exhibit holds that title; ellipses in the school-color red are all over t-shirts, stickers, and FaceBook. Now that (pardon the pun) is classy!

I’m not here to teach,” I always say on the first day of class, “I’m here to learn.”

To the students and many good people who sustained 89 years of success at CVA: Thanks for all you taught me. And Godspeed.
Now carry on…

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7 Responses to “Closing a College: An Unplanned BreakAway”

  1. Matt V Says:

    Kirk – thank you for everything this semester and thank you for caring about us and our future. The best is yet to come!

  2. khorsted Says:

    Hey Matt! And thanks to you for the inspiring attitude and good work despite all the distractions.

  3. Kolean Pitner Says:

    Thanks for the words of wisdom, Kirk. It has been a privilege and a pleasure working with you at CVA. Now that my future has been freed up, I’m going to take your advice and take some time to decide how to spend the time I have left in this life. Here’s to the next chapter!

  4. kirk Says:

    And our hats go off to you, Kolean, for your dedication and inspiration. May your next chapter be all you can hope for!

  5. Kathy Heuer Says:

    Thanks, Kirk, for your beautiful and inspiring words. And I just want to say that the students this semester were wonderful. Their drive and determination to make this a great semester kept all of us motivated. We will look back at this time with sadness but also with happiness

  6. Kim O Says:

    I received the thank you note from your class today, and it was very touching. Thank you for letting me being part of it, and thank you for this very respectful and hopeful send-off… it’s a tribute to the students and school alike.

  7. khorsted Says:

    Kim dear, You rock! The kids loved your presentation (and presence) and aced the essay question about it that I put on the test. Thanks again for showing up!

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