Why ‘What Matters to Me and Why’ matters

Nick DeMarchis, Senior Writer

Speaker series at University certainly have a unique range of perceptions ranging from unnoticed, to diligently attended, to controversial with protests and counter-protests. But some talks fly under the radar, and a prime example of a meaningful speaker series that’s grown over this academic year is “What Matters to Me and Why.” Created by our new Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Kurt Nelson, the titular question is posed to faculty and staff from all across the University. Their answers were funny, surprising, and unique, but always meaningful. Lunches for “What Matters” feel vibrant, with a lighthearted atmosphere that turns deep and reflective when it needs to.

Intellectual diversity of ideas of what makes life meaningful often goes unnoticed at our University. Outside of organized (and strictly religious) groups (namely MSA, CCM, DCF, IV and Hillel, among others), there remains no widely known platform to discuss deeper questions about truth and life. Noting my personal faith background, I still wager that it’s vital to have a space to discuss these matters, especially to gain insight from a variety of other faith backgrounds. In an era tainted with political divisiveness that often bleeds into religion and faith, gaining insight from those with different backgrounds and lived experience serves as an incredibly effective manner to make progress.

“What Matters” serves to break that mold. Served over lunch on Thursdays, faculty and staff from across our institution have been invited to speak. A few notable talks from throughout the year have served to better our University and its understanding of dealing with life’s harder, personal questions.

One particularly notable talk was from Vice Provost Robert Midkiff, who spoke of his early life in West Virginia and how his life has since changed due to his time at the University. He shared his time as a dean, the students who he helped and what he’s learned from those students. Midkiff’s message was a testament to the University faculties’ earnest and genuine care for their students.

Another memorable speaker was Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Philip Asare. As this spring is his last semester at the University, he took a reflective tone of many of the experiences that he gained while at our University. Asare shared his relationship with education and how he’s been in the right place at the right time to help students. While he was candid about the University’s many challenges ahead, he remained optimistic about students’ futures.

Finally, Professor of Physics Tom Solomon closed out the series on a memorable and uplifting note. He spoke in his typical excited and quick-walking fashion of the wonders of the universe: biology, physics and tech all combining in a list of what matters to him. Solomon spent much time talking of the wonders of the Universe and how his experiences point to some unique beauty that he’s come to experience. That beauty is part of what guides his life and what he hopes to inspire in his students.

These talks all point to a greater reality: that these ideas deserve discussion. There are many faculty and staff at this University whose lived experience serves to be a resource to students and the greater campus community. Firsthand lived experience bridges gaps and helps to mend deep wounds ingrained in society. There is so much potential for this series to go deeper and to hear from an increasingly wide breadth of the University and worldwide stage. So I encourage you, when your Message Center lights up (if that’ll still exist come the next “What Matters”) with messages of a meaningful discussion of meaning, truth and life, to seek and explore all that our community continues to offer.

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