By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — A new tradition rang in the academic year at St. Ambrose University. The bell in the historic Ambrose Hall was rung as students walked into the Rogalski Center ballroom for the convocation and blessing Aug. 20.
Paul Koch, provost and vice president for academic and student affairs, told the students that Ambrose Hall’s refurbished bell is now part of a new school tradition. It first rang after completion of the $5.65 million hall renovation in 2014.
“At the heart of every great university are its students, and we welcome you with enthusiasm as our newest community members,” Koch said.
“St. Ambrose University is a community of people committed to academic excellence, the liberal arts, social justice and service; and, as a diocesan, Catholic university, we are here to help you in every way that we can. It is my hope that over the next four years you will take part in the many learning opportunities that St. Ambrose has to offer you, both inside and outside of the classroom.”
Father Thom Hennen, the university’s chaplain, gave the invocation. Kathy Andresen, associate professor of nursing, gave the anchoring address. Later, Bishop Thomas Zinkula gave a blessing, sprinkling holy water on the crowd.
“It’s a great day for the race. What race, you ask? The human race,” Andresen began her address. “When I was growing up, my dad would say this to me and my siblings often. It was something he would greet us cheerfully with in the morning as we were getting ready for the day.”
She said her dad didn’t have the opportunity to earn a four-year degree but “he instilled in us the value of hard work and pursuing our goals. Education was highly valued.” Andresen has completed numerous degrees in higher education but never lived in a dorm, shared a meal in the cafeteria or participated in extracurricular activities.
“Know that what I am about to share is from my own journey and one that has looked longingly from the other side to imagine what it could be like if my path had taken me this way.” Instead of heading off to college after high school graduation, “I was heading to the hospital on Aug. 25 to give birth to my first son.” For her friends who went to college, “Their experience with the human race was quite different than mine at that point.”
But Andresen discovered that every day provided a new opportunity to navigate through uncertainties. She shared with her audience life lesson number one: “greet each challenge as an opportunity to grow.”
Knowing that she needed sustainable employment skills to provide for her son, she enrolled part-time at the community college level to study health care. She encountered many obstacles — “mainly that my plan was not always congruent with the life blueprint that had been already established. Life lesson number two was evident: I could plan my life, but the best laid plans don’t always work out.”
At age 22 she was raising two children, following an unsuccessful first marriage, and working on her diploma program in nursing. She was in survival mode to support her children.
One evening, during a get-together with friends at the Village Inn near St. Ambrose, she ordered a glass of water while rummaging through her purse to try to find enough money to buy a cup of chili. A guy she barely knew asked what she was doing, and she told him. “When the server came to take my order, that same guy said, ‘I want to upgrade her to a bowl of chili.’ Life lesson number three: random acts of kindness changed my human race experience.”
That guy, Andy, has been Andresen’s husband for almost 30 years. He adopted her two sons and the couple had two daughters. “Together, we persevered through many challenges, most notably the death of our 20- year-old-son.” The family has experienced many joyful events as well.
Andy has been at her side as she completed her diploma in practical nursing and associate, bachelor, master and doctoral degrees in nursing. “I never planned any of this; it just worked out according to that master life blueprint.”
Her dad passed away in March 2001, surrounded by his 11 children. “When we gather together, it only takes one (family member) to start with ‘It’s a great day for the race’ before numerous voices chime in, collectively recalling this familiar childhood anecdote,” she said. Believing in oneself is the first step in the journey. But “having someone believe in my success when I struggle with uncertainty has been the greatest motivator for my life journey.”
Andresen has been teaching at St. Ambrose since 2009. “I never imagined that I would be part of such a community of learners and I am amazed at how each new academic season provides opportunities for growth.”
She told the new students that “this is truly an exciting time to launch your journey, whether you are a traditional on-campus, commuter, adult student and/or online learner. Learning is not limited to the classroom. The learning lab for life exists outside of the classroom and it is truly remarkable to see people evolve through their college experiences, wherever they may be.”
Andresen closed her talk with her cherished phrase: “Remember, ‘Every day is a great day for the race,’ Bees!”