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Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together: Progressing in a Pandemic

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  • As celebrators of the new year, we hadn’t envisioned a 2020 filled with so much trauma, death, aloneness, loss, grief, and disruption. 

    As the clock of 2019 wound down, the ball in New York City began to drop, and celebrators began to sing “Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne?”. At long last, the year 2020 had arrived! A year that many, including myself, had proclaimed would be “the year of perfect 20/20 vision!” 

    For many, the start of a new year is a time to reflect, restore, renew, and recommit. And perhaps, you started the year off doing just that. You cracked open that new journal with a dedication to write and self-reflect each day. You made a vision board with your friends while sipping on mimosas and eating chicken and waffles. You finally renewed that gym membership and went to the grocery store and bought the freshest of fruits and veggies and maybe even committed to a new vegan, paleo, or keto lifestyle. You even promised to finally give up your vice, say “yes” to vacation invites with the crew, spend more time loving on your family, and excel in your academic studies, not settling for anything less than an A.  You were set and focused. 

    And then came March.   

    “Wear a mask!” “Hey you, maintain 6 feet social distance!” “Wash your hands!” “Disinfect everything!”  “Cancel your vacations!” “Quarantine!” “Self-isolate!” “Zoom!” “Unemployment.” “Closed.” “Stay at home.” “Essential workers only.” “Furlough.” “Cancel. CANCEL. CANCEL.”  

    COVID-19, a deadly virus, began spreading rapidly throughout the world, fundamentally altering and disrupting everything that we once considered normal and heightening feelings of anxiety, paranoia, and depression.   

    As celebrators of the new year, we hadn’t envisioned a 2020 filled with so much trauma, death, aloneness, loss, grief, and disruption. 

    But alas, here we are. Four months remaining in the year. Slowly, but surely, regaining our vision and walking cautiously into a new normal.  

    If nothing else, this year has (re)taught me the value of: 

    1. The selah (se-lah): A call for a break, a pause [or breath] to restore, reflect, recreate, and revive 
    2. The celebration: An acknowledgment of all of the moments, no matter how big or small, in-person or virtual, for self or for those dearest to me, for I don’t know what tomorrow holds 
    3. The silver lining: Hope in the midst of chaos, confusion, gloom, and, yes, even a pandemic  

    As we continue to put one foot in front of the other, making sense of the new world around usbe encouraged that:  

    • Yes, we are still in a pandemic. But, we can still have purpose.  Go grab that journal, my friend! 
    • Yes, we will experience some disruption. But, we can still dream.  Pull out that vision board, sis! 
    • Yes, we may face some trauma. But, we still have the capacity to thrive.  Tap into your reservoir of resiliencemy brotha!  
    • Yes, we may get weary. But, we can still be restored.  Get some rest and then smash those resolutionsy’all! 

    And finally, 

    • Yes, you may be meeting in-person, online, or hybrid for your classes this semester. But, the university is OPEN(!), and you can still make adequate progress toward a timely degree completion!  So, show up!  Ace those exams!  Write those papers! 

    For one day, you’re going to look back and reflect on how you managed to progress during a pandemic. 

    “We’ll tak a cup o’kindness yet for days of auld lang syne.”  

    Ivory Berry

    Dr. Ivory Berry, also known as “Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together,” is the Assistant Dean for Student Success for the College of Education and Human Development. He shares his no-nonsense wisdom every day in the Office of Student and Academic Affairs, and occasionally, here on the Student Success Blog.

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    I keep thinking about…

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  • I keep thinking about…

    …the student who relies on the computer lab in the JC to be open through the night because they don’t have a computer at home.

    …the international student still living in the residence hall feeling alone and not sure if they can go back to their home country and then be allowed to return to the States when ready to continue their educational journey.

    …the more seasoned student who isn’t as tech savvy and having to unexpectedly shift to remote learning for the very first time.

    …the student who has a child who can no longer go to school or daycare and not quite sure how to balance parenting and being a student right now.

    …the first generation college student who was excited to bask in celebration with their family at graduation.

    …the student living in a small town that folks can hardly point out on a map who doesn’t have access to the internet.

    …the work study student who is now strapped for hours and cash but still needs to cover their living expenses.

    …the student who has had physical and mental health challenges well before coronavirus became an additional threat to their wellbeing. 

    …the student who considers campus the only home and community that they have. 

    I keep thinking about you, and I carry your stories and circumstances with me daily as I participate in response efforts to help loosen bottlenecks and break through barriers, seen and unforeseen, that stand in the way of your success here at Mason and beyond. 

    Thinking of you,

    Dr. Ivory Berry

    Assistant Dean for Student Success

    College of Education and Human Development

    Dr. Ivory Berry
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    New from Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together: The Tragedy of Delayed Kindness

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  • My charge to you, and to myself, is to more frequently and intentionally initiate and reciprocate gratitude and kindness without delay.

    Flowers. Thank you cards. Words of affirmation. Compliments. Uninterrupted time. Showing up for others. These are just some of the ways that we show gratitude and kindness to people who have either performed a service or good deed for us or to those who we simply value, appreciate, respect, admire, and love.

    Sadly though, too often we find ourselves lacking the capacity, willingness, or awareness to initiate or reciprocate everyday, or special occasion, acts of kindness. 

    Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Frank A. Thomas, Director of the PhD Program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana, speak on the topic, “the tragedy of delayed kindness.” He reminded the audience that, “one flower in life is worth more floral wreaths in death” and that “please and thank you will take you further in life than money and degrees.” This message resonated with me, as there are times when I find myself too busy to initiate kindness to let someone know how much I appreciate them or to reciprocate kindness to show my gratitude for what someone has done for me. 

    I can’t begin to count the number of times, this week alone, I’ve been on the receiving end of kindness and gratitude. I’ve received: compliments on my new Mason gear that I recently purchased at the University bookstore during the Flash Sale; a kind and very thoughtful email from my supervisor letting me know how much she appreciates me and values my leadership and perspectives; a thank you note and gift card from a colleague to express her gratitude for how I always support her and answer her questions no matter how trivial or complex; and a student walking up to me in the Johnson Center to tell me that he was officially enrolled for the semester and eligible to receive his VA benefits as a result of my colleagues and I taking the time to meet with him when he showed up to the office unannounced and in a panic and working expeditiously, on his behalf, to resolve his challenges. Indeed, I’m humbled and energized by the varied acts of kindness that have been directed towards me this week. My spirit is lifted, and my kindness cup “runneth over.” 

    Truly, it’s great to be on the receiving end of kindness; but, of course, it works both ways. As such, my charge to you, and to myself, is to more frequently and intentionally initiate and reciprocate gratitude and kindness without delay.

    Therefore, in this blog space, I want to publicly recognize the staff from across the College and the student volunteers who helped make our CEHD Welcome2Mason Block Party this week a huge success! Also, special gratitude to my staff, the CEHD Student Success Team, for successfully planning and flawlessly executing two signature events this week, the Block Party and the PhD and faculty mixer! Lastly, thank you to my new graduate assistant who has been going above and beyond to acclimate herself to our office and the CEHD culture and displaying ultimate team player spirit, as she has willingly dived in to help the office staff in whatever capacity needed. 

    Now it’s your turn. Let someone know today how grateful you are for what they’ve done for you; how they’ve made you feel; or how you appreciate what they are doing in the lives of others. Give them their “flowers” now while they can still see, smell, and/or touch them. 

    Here are a few suggestions to help get you started:

    • Send a kind note to that professor who gave you an IN grade to allow you more time to complete assignments when they weren’t obligated.
    • Offer an appropriate compliment to that classmate who always shows up for class looking fly! It takes time to consistently look fly!
    • Bring a coworker a small token of appreciation for covering your shift or volunteering to help lighten your workload.
    • Call (not text!) your parents or an old friend just to let them know that you’re thinking about them.
    • Leave the server a 20% tip the next time you’re dining in at a restaurant to show appreciation for the quality of service that enhanced your experience. 

    Don’t delay. (Re)Activate your spirit of kindness today, for as Dr. Thomas reminded me, and I share with you, “there’s a tragedy in delayed kindness.”

    Ivory Berry

    Dr. Ivory Berry, also known as “Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together,” is the Assistant Dean for Student Success for the College of Education and Human Development. He shares his no-nonsense wisdom every day in the Office of Student and Academic Affairs, and occasionally, here on the Student Success Blog.

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    Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together says, “Remember to Exhale.”

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  • More now than ever do I/we need a pause button to press to allow time for aimless gazing, reflection, guidance seeking from the spiritual realm, strategizing plans of execution, sense making, and feeling present.

    Inhale…1, 2, 3…Exhale. Inhaling all that’s good in the world. Exhaling the nonsense, irrelevant, space invading, and toxic. Semester’s end is rapidly approaching, which means stress levels are starting to rise as we think about and face head-on all that we are currently enthralled in and bracing for the things to come. My gosh there’s more to come! When will it end? Inhale…1, 2, 3…Exhale. 

    I often joke about needing to display a sign in my office that says “Pause.” More now than ever do I/we need a pause button to press to allow time for aimless gazing, reflection, guidance seeking from the spiritual realm, strategizing plans of execution, sense making, and feeling present. A daily exercise for me is to show up and be present in mind, body, and spirit. I don’t want these moments to pass me by and I not be able to notice things as simple as the beauty of the color purple. 

    Weighted in trials and tribulations, challenges, the unknown, and circumstance has the power to drain us, consume our daily thoughts, and confuse our mind that “this is life,” “this is normal,” so get used to it. I refuse and you should too. I challenge you/me/us during these stressful times to make space for simple joys like taking a walk, listening to music, meditating, cooking, playing, carving out guilt-free time for family and friends, sleeping, being selfish with our time, and breathing. Inhale…1, 2, 3…Exhale. 

    We are at our best when we are refreshed, refueled, and able to think clearly about our current situations and what’s awaiting us. This isn’t novel, but sometimes we need someone or something to remind us. Yes, you still need to write that paper, read those articles, study for that exam, work that shift, prepare for that presentation, attend that meeting, and care for loved ones. But, you can also plan to attend Mason Day, watch Cochella/Beychella YouTube videos on repeat, bake treats for the office staff, grab lunch with friends or colleagues in the JC, check-in with yourself by speaking to a mental health professional, and walk around Patriot Circle feeling the sun on your skin. Let’s not sacrifice everyday experiences of joy because of our stressors. Stress is inevitable, but it’s not all that this life has for us. I’m convinced of that. Breathe. Inhale…1, 2, 3…Exhale.

    Ivory Berry

    Dr. Ivory Berry, also known as “Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together,” is the Assistant Dean for Student Success for the College of Education and Human Development. He shares his no-nonsense wisdom every day in the Office of Student and Academic Affairs, and occasionally, here on the Student Success Blog.

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    Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together says “Make 2018 the Year of You”

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  • As we prepare to close out and move into a new calendar year, my challenge to you, and quite frankly to myself, is to make 2018 our year of “yes”, but more specifically, the year of saying “yes” to ourselves.

    Producer extraordinaire and creator of ABC’s Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes, released a book in 2015 called Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. The book is a reflection of Shonda’s life during a time in which she challenged herself to say “yes” to everything that scared her. Shonda, an introvert in its truest form, was often criticized by her family for never saying “yes” to anything. She took the criticism to heart and decided to use it as a wakeup call to not be afraid to live, accept she doesn’t have to be in control, and to open herself up to opportunities and risks that have the potential to take her personally and professionally to places unimagined and unexplored. 

    As we prepare to close out and move into a new calendar year, my challenge to you, and quite frankly to myself, is to make 2018 our year of “yes”, but more specifically, the year of saying “yes” to ourselves. I recall a few years ago when I was preparing to graduate from undergrad and was gearing up for graduate studies, I received a lesson in learning that I was not in control and that if I wanted the most for me, I needed to say “yes” to some things that were either scary or unknown. More specifically, I had been accepted to pursue graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 700 miles away from my home in Louisiana, and was considering declining the offer in order to continue working with the McNair Scholars program at my undergraduate institution, Southern University and A&M College. The irony is that I was a McNair Scholar, too, and the purpose of the program is to prepare promising first-generation, underrepresented students for doctoral studies. I was so focused on preparing “my” scholars for doctoral study that I had not given myself the attention I needed to get myself together. Further, I didn’t want to leave my friends, family, and culture. I was comfortable with life the way it was…even though I was broke! However, I soon learned that part of choosing “you” is growing comfortable with being uncomfortable. As such, with the support of my family, friends, and faculty mentors, I ultimately decided to choose me. 

    I packed whatever could fit in my car, printed out directions to Illinois via MapQuest, and rode into the sunset, or rather the cornfields. Honestly, I had never heard of the University of Illinois; I had only become familiar with the University months prior when a recruiter visited my undergraduate institution and encouraged me to apply. In addition, I had no relatives in the area, had never visited the state for vacation, and had never taken a 12-hour road trip alone. Who would have known though that during my time at Illinois I would make lifelong friends turned family; meet faculty and staff who didn’t know me but wanted to pour into me encouragement and wisdom; take on leadership roles on campus and within the broader community; receive multiple assistantship opportunities along the way; and develop a blossoming personality and genuine care and compassion for others, especially students…the ones everyone loved as well as the ones who everyone had given up on and didn’t think could succeed?

    Professionally, I’ve continued to say “yes” to things and opportunities that scare me, like moving to Ohio and later, Virginia. However, I’ve realized that although I’ve become more open to saying “yes” to the things that scare me or the unknown, I’m not always as good at saying “yes” to me, or rather choosing me first. At times, I become consumed by this thought of choosing me first, and it often keeps me up at night or wakes me out of my sleep (By the way, it’s 4am and I’m writing a blog because this topic was consuming my thoughts and not allowing me to sleep). During the past summer, I remember arriving home from the office late one night, and I sat on the couch fully exhausted. This happens from time to time, given that I’m really an introvert who has learned to “perform” being an extrovert over the years, and it appears and “feels” normal. As such, at the end of the day, I’m usually drained from performing and need alone time (about a 1/2 hour) to recharge my internal battery. However, on this particular occasion, I remember sitting on the couch for several hours and my internal battery was still on 10%. Needless to say, I didn’t go into the office the following day, as I had nothing to give. My cup was empty. It is typically my goal to pour into others, particularly students and staff, as often as I possibly can. But, how can one pour into others if their cup is empty or only half full? This may seem like a “selfish” act; it is, and that is okay. Just as the flight attendant instructs passengers to put their oxygen mask on first so you can breathe before helping others, the same goes for making sure you have something in your cup before trying to pour into others.

    With that being said, I’m excited for the next couple weeks. I need to recharge my internal battery and hydrate so I can continue to pour into others, especially students and staff. I encourage you to do the same this winter break, so you can be prepared to not only pour into others in the new year but to also get ready to say “yes” to experiences and opportunities that scare you, including saying “yes” to YOU because you are worth it. 

    Joyous holiday season to all. 

    Ivory Berry

    Dr. Ivory Berry, also known as “Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together,” is the Assistant Dean for Student Success for the College of Education and Human Development. He shares his no-nonsense wisdom every day in the Office of Student and Academic Affairs, and occasionally, here on the Student Success Blog.