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This week I’m attending the conference of a professional association and, of course, I’m doing it from the comfort of my home. I’m extremely grateful for the colleagues, always volunteers, who made the decision in June to change the annual conference and then did all the work to make it happen. Because of them we are getting to hear great keynoters and the educational sessions are still happening. So is the silent auction, and I just made good on my pledge with an annual payment to the connected foundation. On Twitter, I’ve watched conversations happen. One colleague seems to be ‘attending’ two conferences this week, a luxury not afforded in more normal times. And based on a Facebook post, friends are finding ways to meet and talk as they usually do at this time of year. In spite of the fact that we can’t be in the same room together, we are still finding ways to be with our professional colleagues. And I think that’s a very good thing.

This particular professional association is the Texas Association of College and University Student Personnel Administrators (TACUSPA). As an RA, I never knew anything about professional associations. As a part-time Hall Director, I heard someone mention SWACUHO, but I’m not sure I could have told you what the acronym stood for. Luckily for me, I’ve worked for people who understood the value of such organizations.

Walther Urban was Dean of Students at McMurry College (now University) when I started my first job there in 1982. He knew McMurry and Abilene, Texas were not going to be my home as they were his so when the brochure for the TACUSPA annual conference arrived in his mail, he handed it to me and said, “You should do this.” So in October of 1982, I attended my first professional association meeting. Ten years later I had the honor of serving as the organization’s president and it is impossible to quantify all I have learned from those experiences and from being involved with TACUSPA for thirty-eight years now. But I met people who are still dear friends, people who would become my supervisors, and people who taught me how to be better at this work we do every time I was with them. And that includes the past two days.

I’ve been involved with NASPA since 1986 (I think) and was involved with ASJA (now ASCA) from the first conversation at the Stetson law conference and I’ve learned just as much from my connection to those organizations. I’ve learned about our profession. I’ve had a chance to practice and improve my leadership. I’ve built a network of people I could call for help and who I was glad to help when they called me.

The quote below comes from Robert Fulgham’s book, From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives. He explains professional meetings this way:
“On the surface of it, we come together to accomplish work, to share ideas….Every gathering has business to do, speakers to hear, products to consider, and officers to elect…. Serious purpose….We go to get new ideas, new energy, confirmation of who we are and what we do. This is recreation. A serious word – re-creation – a re-newal of self. If a convention is truly successful, this is what happened to you…. When it works well, this is reunion.”

Fulgham calls conventions/conferences “secular churches”. I call them family reunions. But just because we can’t be in the same room with our families – actual relatives, work families, association families – doesn’t make being with them any less important. It may make being with them even more important. You say you’re not going to a virtual conference this year since it won’t be the same? You’re right it won’t, but my being ‘at’ TACUSPA this week reminds me there are many ways to be with others and it’s always important professionally and personally. Being with others is important and I hope you are finding ways to gather together now and in the coming weeks and months.

Take care,

Gage

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