The 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.
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.
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.
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…