Friday Focus: Gold is where you find it

Head and shoulders photo of UAF Chancellor Dan White outdoors wearing a blue and black plaid blazer with a UAF athletics pin over a white collared shirt and blue paisley necktie with yellow accents.
UAF photo by Eric Engman
Chancellor Dan White

Oct. 28, 2022

— By Dan White, chancellor

As I have noted in at least one Friday Focus column before, I was raised in a small mining town in Colorado. Raised atop a pile of rounded river rock that was a gold mine sometime the century before. As a kid I searched for gold missed by the miners in the nooks and crannies of the ancient river bend. I also wandered the mountains checking the crumbled remains of abandoned 19th century cabins for gold pokes deserted by fate or misfortune. To no one’s surprise, I never found a mason jar full of gold nuggets beneath the old rotting logs. I did, however, find many broken blue glass bottles that once held tinctures of one kind or another, cigar tins, coffee cans, axes, shovels and picks worn by work and weather. And I found peace in the mountains. Just no gold, at least not the kind you put in semiconductors. In my pursuit of discovery, I learned the lesson that in whatever form, gold is where you find it. 

This is my 28th year at UAF, not including a semester I spent teaching here in 1992. I have now crossed that threshold of being employed at UAF longer than I was alive before. I just checked my “Current and Past Jobs” in UA Online to make sure I got that right. The list of my current and past roles at UAF took up the whole page, with the earliest entry as 1996. I guess my jobs before that are now in the company of cigar tins and coffee cans.

Like most small towns the politics where I was a kid seemed out of proportion and overly personal. Slights, perceived or real, lasted a long time. A couple weeks ago I was there on leave and met up with a few people, some who left and returned, and some who never left. Woven in the updates were the recounting of slights nearly 50 years old. Personal injuries cast a mighty long shadow whether they be real or perceived, intentional or not, true or false.

I mentioned at convocation that we, myself included, still carry the burden of the challenges we faced in the last five years. This includes the slights, real and perceived, that we can’t or don’t want to let go of. The goal of convocation this year was to look forward, but also backward. And in our hindsight, look with a sense of pride and accomplishment. In our look back, let us not dwell in the COVID years or the budget cuts, or continue to get sucked back into the difficult discussions of exigency. Rather, look how far we’ve come since 1917, 1922, or even the last half of the 20th century. This is a great University with a rich history. A university that has improved the lives of tens of thousands of people. We have come a long way! If you did not get a chance to see convocation, check out this video we showed, it will make you smile.

The other video we showed at convocation was a recognition that everyone at UAF, in whatever capacity they work, supports our mission of teaching, research, and outreach. Check it out.

As we look forward to what looks to me to be a very positive future, be buoyed and proud of what we’ve done. Step out of the shadow of those things holding us back. Our future is ahead of us and it is good. In the end, gold is where you find it.

Friday Focus is written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week.